ATLANTA – Yoenis Cespedes walked. Is it because money talks?
The Mets announced Sunday that Cespedes opted out of this season over concerns about the coronavirus, and a friend backed up that version.
But multiple sources confirmed that twice in the first nine games of the season, Cespedes confronted Mets officials because he was concerned about playing time and that he would be kept out of lineups to prevent him from reaching lucrative performance bonuses. One of those instances came Saturday, when Cespedes knew before the buses left the team hotel Sunday that he was not in the starting lineup.
The 34-year-old slugger never showed for the game against the Braves, triggering a bizarre day even for the Mets.
Cespedes was a no-show at Truist Park for the Mets’ 4-0 loss to the Braves, prompting general manager Brodie Van Wagenen to issue a statement during the game saying Cespedes was absent and the team had been unsuccessful in contacting him.
The Mets sent security to Cespedes’ hotel room, and found he had packed up and departed, according to Van Wagenen. The GM said he learned during the game that Cespedes was opting out from the season over coronavirus concerns.
A source indicated that Cespedes did not show at the ballpark Sunday after learning he would be absent from the lineup for the second time in 10 games. Cespedes was upset earlier in the week, according to the source, that he had been benched for a game in Boston and complained to team officials.
Manager Luis Rojas, who said he was unaware of the bonus levels in Cespedes’ contract, explained to the player that the off day at Fenway Park was because the team had arrived at 3:30 a.m. after a long bus ride following a Sunday night game.
And with Cespedes 2-for-15 with nine strikeouts in his past four games, the decision was reached to put Cespedes on the bench again Sunday. Players were informed on a Zoom call before buses departed for the ballpark Sunday of the starting lineup. That was the final straw for Cespedes.
Cespedes’ contract was heavily incentive-laden — based largely on at-bats — after his deal was restructured last year in the aftermath of an accident on his ranch that involved a wild boar. Rather than risk having the contract nullified, Cespedes agreed to a reduced deal with incentives. For this 60-game season, he was receiving a guaranteed $6 million, prorated. His incentive levels were also prorated following MLB’s shutdown for the coronavirus.
Cespedes will forgo his remaining salary by opting out. Van Wagenen, as an agent, negotiated the four-year deal worth $110 million Cespedes received from the Mets before the 2017 season.
But physical limitations, including separate surgeries to remove calcifications from both heels, kept Cespedes sidelined for two years beginning in July 2018. He returned to summer camp last month and won a starting job as the DH and homered to give the Mets their only run in a 1-0 victory over the Braves on Opening Day at Citi Field.
“Yo is a great player that I think everybody enjoyed watching play when he was at his best,” Van Wagenen said. “There was optimism for his return. I know how hard he worked in his rehab to get back to this point and I know this is a disappointing end to at least his four-year agreement from the Mets, but I know it wasn’t from lack of work ethic on his part to try and get back.”