When the Mets traded a pair of minor league pitchers to the Detroit Tigers for slugger Yoenis Cespedes just over three weeks ago, they knew he was a good middle-of-the-order bat, one they hoped would play a crucial part down the stretch as the team fought for an NL East Division title.
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They probably didn’t realize that he would be this good.
Cespedes has been on a tear since the trade, hitting .318 across 19 games with the Metropolitans, with five home runs and 16 RBI. More importantly, he has helped his new club erase the Washington Nationals lead in the division.
The Mets currently sit 5.5 games up on Washington in the race for first place. With a little over a month of regular season baseball left to play, the Mets are on track to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Cespedes was among the first to spearhead a line of Cuban baseball players who defected in the last decade to come over and play in MLB. As an 18-year-old rookie during the 2003-2004 season in Cuba, Cespedes hit .302/.382/.503., but he really caught the eyes of people around baseball in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when he put together a .458/.480/1.000 slash line and belted a pair of homers, three triples, and a double in 24 at-bats (stats via Baseball America).
When rumors of his defection first emerged, he put out a YouTube video (below) showcasing his five-tool abilities and overall freakish athleticism. Out-bidding the Miami Marlins for his services, the Oakland Athletics agreed to a four-year, $36 million pact with the Cuban star. His signing then opened the doors for other stars such as Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Jorge Soler, Rusney Castillo, and Yoan Moncada.
In his first major league season of 2012, Cespedes quickly impressed by hitting .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs. He also posted a team best .505 slugging percentage. Cespedes parlayed that performance into a 10th place finish in the AL MVP voting, and a second place finish for AL Rookie of the Year.
After playing another season in Oakland in 2013, his average dropped to .240, but he was still able to launch 26 home runs and drive in 80 runs. During his time with the A’s, Cespedes became known also for his cannon of an arm, as evidenced by the below missile, where he threw out the Angels’ Howie Kendrick at home from more than 300 feet away in left field.
In 2014, Cespedes played 101 more games with the A’s before being shipped off to the Boston Red Sox in a mega-deal at the trade deadline for Bosox left-hander Jon Lester. While in the midst of a down year in which they would finish 71-91, the Sox believed Cespedes could play a big role on their next championship caliber team, while the A’s were acquiring an ace pitcher to try to overcome their well-documented playoff woes.
Finishing the season in Beantown, Cespedes totaled 22 long balls and 100 RBIs between the two clubs. But any plans to keep Cespedes around in Boston were foiled when stories appeared calling into question his work ethic, as well as a rift with Red Sox’ coaches. With Boston already having a glut of outfielders, they sent what they felt was an expendable Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers for starting pitcher Rick Porcello, just five months after acquiring him from Oakland.
“When you see it, you just shake your head. He’s a special talent.” ~ Mets’ skipper Collins
Cespedes would find Detroit to be a much more suitable environment. In 102 games, he smacked 18 homers and 61 RBI, and was one of the top bats available at the trade deadline last month. After one deal fell through for Brewers’ centerfielder Carlos Gomez, the Mets pulled the trigger on a trade for Cespedes when it became evident that Detroit would not be contending in the AL Central.
What a pick up the player known as “La Potencia” (the Power) has been for them. Cespedes’ five homers in the month of August for the Mets rank second only to Curtis Granderson’s six. His 27 hits are tops on the team for the month, as are his 48 total bases and his four stolen bases.
The 29-year-old has at least one hit in 13 of 19 August games, and two hits or more in nine of 19. In a game against the Colorado Rockies on Friday night, Cespedes had a record-setting night. In six at-bats, he recorded five hits and seven RBI, including three moonshot homers (grand slam, solo, two-run), as well as a double and a stolen base. He also scored five runs.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Cespedes was just the 3rd player since 1920 with at least three home runs, five hits, seven RBI and a steal in a single ball game.
This amazing performance by the outfielder left Cespedes’ manager, Terry Collins, in awe after that game.
“I haven’t seen anything like that,” Collins said. “He just continues to display some of the things that everybody says he can do. When you see it, you just shake your head. He’s a special talent.” (via ESPN.com)
In last night’s opener of a four-game set with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, Cespedes continued his hot streak. He went 2-5 in the contest, and blasted his 24th homer of the season in the 9th, a 2-run shot off Phils’ reliever Adam Loewen. It was one of a franchise-record 8 home runs for the Mets in a 16-7 victory.
Cespedes had never faced the Phillies in his four-year career, but he has faced two of the starting pitchers that the club will toss at him in the balance of the series: Jerome Williams and Aaron Harang. He is a lifetime 1-6 off Harang, and 3-13 of Williams with a home run. When rookie Jerad Eickhoff goes on Wednesday it will, of course, be their first career showdown.
Cespedes is paying big dividends for a Mets team that had a clear need for a middle of the order bat. With his contract expiring at the end of this season, and a big pay-day coming, it will be interesting to see just how badly the Mets work to entice him into returning to Flushing.
If he ends up being the pickup that the Mets needed all along to help them return to playoff prominence, it would be difficult to see them not being forced to make a serious contract offer, trying to get him to stick around. And with a young, star-studded starting rotation, the thought of the team making deep runs in October for years to come isn’t far-fetched.