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Cespedes had failed to show up to the ballpark in Atlanta for the Mets’ game against the Braves on Sunday, and the team did not know his whereabouts. After the game, they announced his decision to opt out.
When Mets Manager Luis Rojas realized Yoenis Cespedes, one of his most powerful hitters, was not at the ballpark in Atlanta on Sunday morning, he sent his outfielder a text message and followed with a phone call. Cespedes did not reply.
The Mets then sent a security detail to the team hotel. Cespedes was not there, and his belongings were gone, too.
Hours later, the Mets learned from Cespedes’s agent that the player was healthy and not in danger, but that he had decided to opt out of the 2020 season for what General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen called “Covid-related reasons.”
“It was surprising, without question,” Van Wagenen said of Cespedes’s decision after the Mets’ 4-0 loss to the Braves.
For the Mets (3-7), it was one more blow on a day that ended with a fifth consecutive defeat. As concerns about coronavirus outbreaks among the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals have forced players to reconsider plans to play a 60-game season, Cespedes became the 19th major leaguer to opt out, according to Baseball America. He was the first Mets player to do so.
Cespedes, 34, had been expected to provide power to the Mets this season. After missing the majority of the last two seasons with a variety of injuries, he hit a home run in the season opener this year to propel the Mets to a 1-0 win over the Braves. It was his first home run since his previous major league game, on July 20, 2018.
But he struggled in the days since, hitting .161 with two homers over all. On Saturday, Rojas noted that Cespedes was on the first bus to the stadium, and the manager talked to him about progressing to the point of playing left field after starting the season as a designated hitter, which is being used in both the American and National Leagues this year. In that night’s game, Cespedes struck out twice, finished 0 for 4 and left five runners on base in a 7-1 loss. Rojas said he did not speak to Cespedes afterward and had not told Cespedes he would not be in the lineup on Sunday.
“We felt with him, the more at-bats he got the more ready he was going to be,” said Rojas, who did not learn about Cespedes’s decision to opt out until after Sunday’s game. “No conversations about diminishing playing time or anything like that.”
Rojas did not believe his players or coaches would look at Cespedes, an All-Star in 2014 and 2016, any differently because of his decision.
“Everyone on this team looks up to Cespedes because of his ability to play the game and what he has done and the way he carries himself in the clubhouse,” Rojas said. “Everyone has a good relationship with him. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was texting him trying to find out where he was pregame.”
But Saturday’s game may end up being Cespedes’s final one as a Met. His four-year contract expires after this season. The Mets acquired him from the Detroit Tigers just before the trade deadline in 2015 and rode his bat to the World Series before falling to the Kansas City Royals. That off-season, he signed a three-year contract worth $75 million to remain a Met. He exercised his opt-out clause the next winter after hitting 31 home runs and having 86 R.B.I.
Injuries followed. He had surgeries on both his heels and had what Van Wagenen described as a “violent” fall on his ranch in Florida while rehabilitating.
Still, Van Wagenen, who negotiated Cespedes’s contract with the Mets when he was a player agent, expressed disappointment that the team and its fans had not been able to see a healthier Cespedes for a longer period of time.
Cespedes was viewed as the perfect complement to Pete Alonso, the reigning rookie of the year in the National League, as well as Jeff McNeil, a utility fielder who emerged as the team’s most consistent hitter and made the All-Star team last season during Cespedes’s absence.
Earlier Sunday, the Mets traded right-hander Jordan Humphreys to the Giants for Billy Hamilton, a defensive-minded outfielder.
After the game Sunday, the Mets were already trying to look forward. Jacob deGrom, the team’s ace, was scheduled to pitch Monday in Atlanta.
“As we pick up the pieces here now, it’s a matter of going forward,” Van Wagenen said.