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The story is, the New York Mets sent security personnel to an Atlanta hotel on Sunday afternoon, to a particular room, and had them open the door.
It is how they learned Yoenis Céspedes was gone.
Sometime later, continues the story, after Céspedes had been absent from Sunday morning meetings at the hotel, a bus to the ballpark, pregame preparations there and then an actual baseball game, they learned why.
“He’s decided to opt out of the remainder of the season,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said, “for COVID-related reasons.”
Céspedes is the 19th player (one reconsidered) to pass on a baseball summer that carries a disjointed baseball season. He is first to do so, the story goes, as he was settling up on his incidentals and without notifying his team first.
Even on legs worn by years and injury, he showed an exceptional first step.
He is — or, now, was — in the final months of a four-year, $110 million contract with the Mets, though they’d reworked the financial end of that deal when he’d injured himself on his ranch. Céspedes missed a lot of baseball games as a Met. He was still the guy who hit 17 home runs after the trade deadline in 2015 and therefore helped lug the Mets into that World Series. He was an All-Star in 2016. He was also the guy who missed all of last season, played in 38 games in 2018 and 81 the season before that, the guy who was hitting .161 with 15 strikeouts in 31 at-bats through Saturday night and was not in Sunday’s lineup and then walked away, according to their story, without saying goodbye.
Whatever is to come of the Mets and life in the porous bubble that is baseball in 2020, Céspedes had seen enough of at least one and maybe both of those. The Mets responded initially — mid-game — with a statement wondering where Céspedes was and why he wasn’t answering his phone, then a few minutes later made sure reporters knew that they knew Céspedes was unharmed. This, according to the general manager’s story, was merely a byproduct of the club’s relentless efforts at “real time” transparency.
It was really an odd day.
By late in the game, the story goes, Céspedes’ agent informed Van Wagenen (Céspedes’ former agent) that Céspedes had indeed cleared out and would not return.
The events of the season’s first 10 days — three teams were forced to pause their seasons because of coronavirus cases and scares — would be enough to rattle the most courageous player. Two of those teams — the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies — are in the NL East with the Mets. So there would be no judging a player (or coach or staffer) who chose a course of safety.
There would, however, be some curiosity about the method of withdrawal and what that said about the relationship between management and the player, given the team’s story it did not know Céspedes was contemplating opting out and then, of course, did not know he had opted out even after he had.
“Look, first off, we support everybody’s, and every player’s, right to make this type of decision,” Van Wagenen said. “This is a challenging time for everyone. And so we will support him in that decision. It was surprising without question.”
Céspedes was the starting designated hitter in eight of the Mets’ first nine games, batting sixth in the past five. Manager Luis Rojas said Sunday afternoon he’d spoken recently with Céspedes about working him into the left field rotation, but there’d been no discussion of a lesser role in the offense. Rojas said he did not tell Céspedes he would be left out of Sunday’s lineup after Saturday’s 0-for-4, that that was not revealed until Sunday morning.
Van Wagenen said that if Céspedes were unhappy with his contract or the potential fewer at-bats might have on his bonus structure, Céspedes had not expressed it to him.
“He was certainly being given every opportunity to help us perform,” Van Wagenen said.
He was, at the end, not helping. But, then, given the Mets are 3-7 and already four games out of first place, neither are many others.
Perhaps, this is how the end was always going to look, given the Mets’ tendencies toward self-immolation and Céspedes’ eccentricities. That is, a weird statement followed by a puff of smoke with, in between, some security guard jiggling a master key. They went to a World Series once together, which is probably more than a Mets fan could reasonably have hoped for. They split up with so much undone, under the cover of a pandemic, with the team threatening to play itself out of a two-month season in the first 10 days, and with no real explanation, no real clarity, only stories.
Which sounds about right.
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