Yoenis Cespedes walked.
Is it because money talks?
The Mets announced Sunday afternoon that Cespedes opted out of this season over concerns about COVID-19, 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 concerned about playing time and that he would be kept out of lineups to prevent him from reaching lucrative performance bonuses. One of those came Saturday, when Cespedes first talked to Luis Rojas and then Brodie Van Wagenen about his playing status and bonuses. Then Cespedes knew before the buses left for Truist Park on Sunday he was not in the starting lineup and he never showed for the game against the Braves, triggering a bizarre day even for the Mets.
In the early innings of what would be a 4-0 loss to the Braves, Van Wagenen issued a statement revealing 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, ending his star-crossed tenure with the Mets.
Rojas had notified his players via Zoom what the starting lineup was Sunday before the buses departed for the stadium. For the second time in 10 games, Cespedes was not going to start. He went further by not taking any of the buses, essentially ghosting the organization. Every other opt out of this season to date was coordinated between the player exiting and the team with no theatrics.
A friend of Cespedes said, “Due to the recent outbreaks of having a family member with a pre-existing condition, Yoenis felt the decision to opt out was best for him and his family.”
Clearly, though, Cespedes also was worried about his playing time and the implications to his pay.
Cespedes did not start for the first time in the fourth game of the season in Boston. Cespedes confronted Rojas, asking why he was not playing and if it had to do with his bonus provisions, sources said. Rojas told Cespedes he was unaware of the bonus provisions and 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.
On Saturday, Cespedes talked first to Rojas and then to Van Wagenen again about his playing status and if it was being impacted by the bonus provisions. Both Mets officials attempted to reassure Cespedes that was not the case.
Still, 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. And then he was a no-show — it turns out for the rest of the year.
When reached Sunday, Cespdes’ representative Kyle Thousand would not comment on if his client was upset about his playing time and had spoken to Mets officials about if it was over the bonus provisions.
Cespedes had his contract restructured for this season after it was revealed he had re-injured himself last year on his farm trying to evade a wild boar. His $29.5 million payday for 2020 was reduced to $6 million, making his prorated pay $2.2 million. The Mets no longer have to pay any more of that or any of the bonuses he would reach for hitting plate appearance levels.
Van Wagenen, as an agent, negotiated the four-year, $110 million deal 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.”
— With Ken Davidoff
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