Another preseason camp filled with optimism about a star outfielder’s return is upon the Mets.
For the record, spring training 2.0 will be the Mets’ third camp since Yoenis Cespedes began his extended rehab in 2018 with hopes of eventually returning. All it took was a pandemic and the implementation of a universal DH for those dreams to appear more realistic than ever.
When full-squad workouts begin Friday at Citi Field in preparation for the planned 60-game season, Cespedes will be the extravagance the Mets covet for an already talented lineup.
“It would definitely be a luxury having Cespedes on a daily basis as the DH,” manager Luis Rojas said Thursday on a Zoom call with reporters. “But he is someone we still need to look how he presents when he comes to camp. He is in a better position right now per our performance staff, and we’re definitely going to monitor that as we go to camp, but we have more names as well.”
Cespedes was taking live batting practice and shagging flies before spring training was shuttered in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but he still hadn’t run the bases. The two-year anniversary of his last game with the Mets is July 24 — potentially the date of the Mets’ opener. Since then he has undergone separate surgeries to remove calcifications from each heel and recovered from multiple right ankle fractures sustained during an encounter with a wild boar on his ranch.
Ideally, the Mets can count on Cespedes as the primary DH, but Rojas mentioned other options that include Robinson Cano, Dominic Smith, Matt Adams and Wilson Ramos getting some DH at-bats.
A weird year overall has been even stranger for Mets managers. Carlos Beltran departed the organization in January before even managing his first game, as fallout from the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing scheme. And now his replacement, Rojas, is about to begin his second preseason camp — without yet managing a game.
Rojas’ challenges will include beginning camp with hitting coach Chili Davis working remotely. As The Post first reported, the 60-year-old Davis is taking coronavirus precautions and will limit his interactions with players to Zoom conversations as he monitors workouts from home. Assistant hitting coach Tom Slater and minor league hitting coordinator Ryan Ellis will work on site with the players.
“I think we’re going to get the best of Chili whether he’s with us at the start of camp or working remotely,” Rojas said, adding that the rest of his coaching staff will be on site for workouts. “He’s a great asset and he’s got great knowledge and experience and he helps the players with hitting and playing the game. He helps the coaches as well with his view of the game. We’re going to feel his presence with him inputting all the experience and all the repertoire that he can bring to the table.”
The abbreviated season gives Rojas the option of shortening his rotation to give ace Jacob deGrom additional starts. But the manager indicated he plans to employ a full unit that also includes Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. In March, the Mets lost Noah Syndergaard for the season to Tommy John surgery.
“Right now we’re thinking of a five-man rotation, we have five solid starters and that’s what we’re going to focus on stretching out in this camp,” Rojas said.
The rookie manager’s toughest challenge might be keeping track of the new protocols and safety measures implemented to keep players healthy. On Thursday, the Mets were still awaiting results of coronavirus testing that would clear players to begin workouts. Players will be tested every other day.
“We are going to be strict from the start,” Rojas said. “But I know that once everyone gets into that routine, everyone is going to act properly and focus on that baseball side and we are going to be able to prepare, sync in, just the same way we do and have fun out there and bring Mets baseball to the fans.”