It’s been over a month since Yoenis Cespedes left the Mets—likely never to return—in a cloud of mystery. The eccentric slugger took ghosting to its logical extreme, quite literally vanishing from the team’s hotel during a series in Atlanta. What exactly went into Cespedes’ puzzling decision to leave New York at the altar, a move that cost him a hefty chunk of his prorated $11-million salary? After a month of digging, SNY’s Andy Martino discovered there were a myriad of reasons for the disgruntled 34-year-old’s stunning departure.
Entering the home stretch of a four-year, $110-million free-agent pact, a deal negotiated by current Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen (Cespedes’ agent at the time), the two-time All-Star was forced to accept a significant pay cut after violating the terms of his contract in an off-field incident (the incident being a boar attack on his Florida ranch). Cespedes, who netted a $5-million bonus for appearing on the team’s Opening Day roster, wasn’t in the lineup for the Mets’ fourth game of the season. “Paranoid” over the incident, Cespedes became convinced the Mets were intentionally limiting his playing time to prevent him from hitting any of the incentives and escalators written into his reworked contract.
Per Martino, the former Gold Glover was also lukewarm about his new role as the team’s DH, arguing that playing the field helped him to stay “engaged” during games. Between the move to DH and his suspicion the Mets were manipulating his playing time to avoid paying him, Cespedes decided he had had enough on August 1, leaving his hotel room unannounced the night before New York’s series finale in Atlanta.
Another contributing factor may have been the unusually light paycheck Cespedes and others received on July 31, the result of MLB’s March 26th agreement to pay players a $170-million salary advance to keep them afloat during the league’s four-month work stoppage. The veteran opted out under the guise of COVID fears, but it seems frustrations over his smaller-than-expected workload, lack of outfield reps and his own tepid performance (5-for-31 with 15 strikeouts), played a much bigger role in his sudden exodus.
The Mets have arguably been better off without him—Dominic Smith has enjoyed a career year in Cespedes’ stead (.338/.399/.635 with eight homers and 40 RBI). Now at risk of being blacklisted for hanging his team out to dry (Dwight Gooden, for one, doesn’t see him getting another big-league opportunity), it’s anyone’s guess when, or if, the mercurial Cespedes will resurface.