Yoenis Cespedes’ fall from grace turned literal Saturday night, and his future with the Mets may have gone down with it.
The Mets’ long-lost outfielder, who has been out since last July after undergoing double-heel surgery, sustained multiple fractures in his right ankle following a “violent fall” on his ranch in Port St. Lucie, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said Monday.
Cespedes communicated to the team that, “He stepped in a hole and twisted his leg and foot into a difficult position,” Van Wagenen said. The rookie GM added it was his understanding that Cespedes didn’t fall off a horse.
While Van Wagenen wouldn’t say as much, the serious injury clearly means Cespedes will miss at least the duration of this season, with his availability for next year in question.
Van Wagenen made a point of noting that Cespedes suffered his injury from “non-baseball-related activity,” thereby leaving the team’s options open regarding an attempt to recoup some of Cespedes’ salary if it can prove the accident resulted from actions outlawed in the 33-year-old’s contract. Asked whether Cespedes’ activity might have compromised his right to be paid, Van Wagenen said, “We haven’t even thought about implications to the contract.”
The Mets have not begun any formal process to stop paying Cespedes pertaining to this injury, multiple sources said.
Cespedes was being evaluated at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York on Monday as the team opened a series against the Nationals at Citi Field.
“Our focus currently is to try to get him the best medical care and hopefully get a better idea of what it means for his future both in 2019 and beyond,” Van Wagenen said.
As per the four-year, $110-million extension he signed in the fall of 2016, Cespedes is scheduled to make $29 million this season — with approximately $7.5 million already earned — and $29.5 million next year. The Mets are already collecting significant insurance on Cespedes’ contract — a “little less” than the 75 percent they collected on David Wright’s contract, as Jeff Wilpon said last December — for his heel injuries, which have limited him to just one game since last May. Reclaiming his salary would give the Mets further savings as well as penalize Cespedes.
But such a penalty would require a burden of proof that, at this early point in the process, shows no sign of existing. When the Yankees voided Aaron Boone’s contract in 2004 after he tore his left ACL, the team’s future manager confessed he hurt himself playing basketball, a violation of his one-year, $5.75 million contract.
Six years later, the Mets tried to convert Francisco Rodriguez’s contract from guaranteed to non-guaranteed as K-Rod tore ligaments in his right thumb while attacking the grandfather of his children — which he admitted to the Mets in the immediate aftermath of the incident at Citi Field — and the effort bore fruit, as the two sides settled on the closer forfeiting the $3 million-plus he would’ve been paid during his time on the disabled list.
After describing Cespedes’ fall into a hole as “the story from his standpoint,” Van Wagenen was asked if there was reason to believe that the outfielder was not being truthful.
“That’s what he told us,” Van Wagenen said. “I’m not suggesting that we do or do not have the story. He told us very clearly what happened, and we made immediate action step to try to get him down here.”
While the Mets had declined to put a timeline on Cespedes’ return from his initial injury, there was hope he could play later this season. He had recently been running and taking outdoor batting practice.
If Cespedes does not play at all in 2019, he will have played just 119 games in the first three years of his four-year contract
Cespedes was limited by a strained quad in 2016, which may or may not have been gotten worse by playing golf. In 2017, he was sidelined by a hamstring injury, before a hip flexor and then the heel injuries marred his 2018.
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