PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is back with his team for the first time in 19 months, but he has yet to publicly discuss the series of injuries that kept him away.
Cespedes has not played since July 2018, recovering first from operations on both heels and later from an ankle fracture he sustained during a run-in with a wild boar on his ranch. Although he is at spring training, he is still not 100 percent healthy, and he has refused to speak with reporters.
“Not today, not tomorrow, not at all this year,” he said when approached by reporters at his locker on Monday, when the Mets had their first full-squad workout.
“Because I don’t want to,” Cespedes said when asked why.
Cespedes was limited in the first week of workouts, but he appears to be inching closer to full strength: Manager Luis Rojas estimated that Cespedes was at 75 to 80 percent. The return of the two-time All-Star could bolster a Mets offense that ranked 13th in the majors in runs scored last season.
“I have to be confident that he is going to do it,” Rojas said of Cespedes’s making a full recovery. “This guy is very determined.”
Cespedes, 34, has battled injuries for most of his career, which started with the Oakland Athletics in 2012 after he defected from Cuba. The latest problems began in May 2018, when he strained his right hip flexor. Two months later — after Cespedes returned for one game — his season was shut down so he could undergo operations on his heels to remove bone spurs and calcification near the Achilles’ tendons. The recovery time was expected to be eight to 10 months, which made his return for the 2019 season uncertain.
While recovering on his ranch in Port St. Lucie last May, Cespedes fractured his right ankle in what Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has described as a violent fall during an encounter with a wild boar. In December, multiple news outlets reported that Cespedes had agreed to a significant salary reduction, but that there were performance-based incentives added. He is in the final year of a four-year contract.
The team had been reluctant to share details of Cespedes’s recovery, stating only that he is progressing. Though the Mets’ workout on Monday was the first time that Cespedes had participated in official team activities since July 2018, videos he posted on social media in January showed him running and taking batting practice at the team’s spring training facility.
Cespedes took part in every workout this week, but at times broke away from the group to work individually with members of the Mets’ performance staff. Rojas said Cespedes could not yet run full out or make cutbacks; he was doing zigzags at one point, but Rojas said the staff had him stop.
Cespedes also did some defensive drills, including fly-ball practice, although the coaches were careful to send the balls so that he only ran straight to catch them. Known for his strong arm, Cespedes threw from the outfield to home plate this week, according to Rojas.
“That’s big news for us,” the manager said.
Cespedes also showed traces of his slugging self throughout the week — after a few stumbles early on. His bat went flying on Monday during batting practice, his first time facing live pitching. By Tuesday, though, he was hitting multiple balls over the fence, much to the delight of the crowd on hand. After, Cespedes made an effort to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.
On Thursday he got a line drive off Jacob deGrom, the reigning two-time Cy Young Award winner in the National League. That made deGrom smirk and shake his head, and the two joked about it together after the session.
“What he does on the field is special when he’s healthy,” outfielder Michael Conforto said of Cespedes. “I think you can see how happy everyone is to have him back just purely by that exchange.”
If he can return to top form, Cespedes could add power to the Mets’ offense. His performance in 2015, when he spent the first half of the season with Detroit before we was traded to the Mets, included a batting average of .291, 35 home runs, 42 doubles and 105 R.B.I. He followed that up in 2016 with a .280 batting average, 31 home runs, 25 doubles and 86 R.B.I.
Cespedes was not expected to play in either of the Mets’ split squad games on Saturday, and Rojas said there was no timetable for when he would be at full strength.
“You can feel that when it’s time, he’s going to cause great impact,” Rojas said, adding, “I’m really looking forward to that.”