NEW YORK — In the first three years of his contract with the New York Mets, outfielder Yoenis Céspedes played in only 119 games — and in just 38 since 2017 — but the team remains optimistic he’ll be an active player this upcoming abbreviated season.
“Céspedes has been working hard. We are looking forward to him getting into camp, and believe that he should be closer to being game-ready than we were when we saw him last in March,” Brodie Van Wagenen said of the outfielder, one of the many topics discussed by the second-year Mets general manager during a conference call Monday afternoon.
Van Wagenen said the team hopes Céspedes, in the final year of the four-year, $110-million deal he signed after the 2016 season, will be able to contribute in part as a designated hitter this season, with the universal DH will becoming a part of MLB’s planned 60-game regular season.
“Céspedes is an incredible athlete — when he’s 100 percent healthy. He’s got a dynamic skill set with all five tools; we’ll want to make sure that we put him in a position to be able to utilize those tools from an overall lineup construction,” Van Wagenen said. “The ability to have a DH for our players, I think, can help manage workload. We feel like our lineup can be as deep as anybody’s in baseball. We think we have punch, guys that can impact the game with the bat, so we’re looking forward to utilizing the DH spot to both protect our guys’ health and to put up some offensive force.”
Céspedes had to undergo surgeries to remove bone calcifications from both heels last year. He was expected to be sidelined for at least half of the 2019 season, but double ankle fractures eliminated any hope of a return.
Closer Edwin Diaz said he expects Céspedes to be ready.
“This time off will be a silver lining for some of our injured guys, like Céspedes, who I think will be 100 percent ready to play. If there is baseball, the Mets are going to have a tremendous team this year,” Diaz said. “In spring training, Céspedes was almost, almost ready to play. I threw an inning in the minors, and he was right there getting ready to hit and said to me, ‘I’m almost ready; I’ll be ready when the season starts,’ so right now he must be beyond ready.”
Van Wagenen provided updates on two other injured Mets. Of Michael Conforto, who suffered an oblique injury in the spring, Van Wagenen called the hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic “a gift for him,” and he expected the 27-year-old to be ready for camp “without restrictions.”
Van Wagenen added that he believes Jed Lowrie, sidelined much of last season and this spring because of a variety of lower body injuries, can soon transition out of the leg brace he has been wearing and participate in some drills when camp opens.
Without offering further details, Van Wagenen confirmed the Mets had “only one player in the 40-man roster” test positive for COVID-19 since February.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics of it, but he’s recovering and we feel like he’s in a good position, but we’ll wait and see once we get everybody here again,” he said. “We’ll have to evaluate how the next couple of days go, but we are optimistic.”
Van Wagenen stressed that the team still had 10 spots to fulfill in its 60-man summer player pool and that he expects to add more names to that roster. That could possibly include Tim Tebow, who was notably absent from the list released by the team.
Cabrera, 35, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, batting .280 with seven home runs in 378 at-bats. In 15 seasons, Cabrera, who started his career with the Yankees and won the 2009 World Series with them, has a .285 lifetime batting average.
Strickland, 31, spent limited time last season with the Mariners and the Nationals, compiling a 5.55 ERA in 24⅓ innings. He was released by the Nationals in March. Strickland has a lifetime 3.16 ERA, his best years coming with the Giants from 2014 to ’18.
Beckham, 33, hit .215 in 83 games for the Tigers last season. He spent most of his 11-year career with the Chicago White Sox.