PORT ST. LUCIE — Grapefruit League. Cactus League.
Nah, that sounds more like an eSports thing, doesn’t it? It’s something, though, particularly here with the Mets. To date, it’s the only place you can see Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie compete in anything resembling game action.
Moving forward, you’d bet considerably more on Cespedes playing in a real game than Lowrie. Yet there’s not much of a conversation to be had on timelines or expectations for either injury-prone, well-compensated veteran until that happens.
To the Mets’ credit, they have a competitive group ready to go without this pair. Whether the delicate duo and their big paychecks would inhibit the team’s spending power come the trade deadline, well, that’s a theoretical — and fair, should it come to be — question to be addressed in July.
On Monday at Clover Park, Cespedes and Lowrie took some cuts against Marcus Stroman, who skipped the Mets’ game against the Marlins in Jupiter so that he didn’t give his fellow National League East occupants a look at him so close to the season’s start. A truckload of Mets VIPs, from COO Jeff Wilpon to general manager Brodie Van Wagenen to special advisor David Wright to special assistant Terry Collins, took in the action; shoot, even three scouts from other teams checked it out. Most important to the day’s mission, Stroman looked perfectly fine in four “innings,” continuing a great spring for the Mets’ starting rotation. Reliever Justin Wilson also tossed a quiet frame.
Yet additional intrigue surrounded the hobbling hitters. With Stroman’s catcher Rene Rivera calling balls and strikes, Cespedes, who fractured his right ankle last year in his legendary encounter with a wild boar, went 0-for-4 with three groundouts and an infield lineout. Lowrie, dealing with a long-standing left knee problem, went 0-for-3 with two flyouts and a strikeout.
Stroman raved about Cespedes afterward, saying, “Looks great. Looks like he’s getting healthy. Looks like he’s on the progression that he needs to be on.
“Obviously he’s a huge weapon. He’s grinding extremely hard every single day in the weight room, in the training room, doing everything that needs to be done. I love seeing that, and I’m hoping he does everything he can so he can be out there with us, helping us on Opening Day.”
With Opening Day on March 26 (the Mets will host the reigning champion Nationals at Citi Field), and the Mets not even possessing a hard timeline for Cespedes to play in an exhibition contest, that possibility appears increasingly unlikely.
Some positive news does exist for Cespedes, however. He reported to camp saying that he was running at 80 percent, and he has exceeded that exertion level in certain running progressions as he mixes up his drills. Newsday first reported that the Mets next want to see Cespedes run the full bases in a simulated game.
Given the financial incentives that exist for Cespedes to get on the field for the first time since July 2018 and stay there — he can make back nearly half of the $29 million he surrendered upon conceding a violation of his contract — you know the 34-year-old will make every human effort to join Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, Jake Marisnick, Brandon Nimmo and Dom Smith as part of the outfield corps.
For the 35-year-old infielder Lowrie, who will make $10 million this season, the forecast looks cloudier. He continues to wear a left leg brace that looks large enough to help his gigantic teammate Dellin Betances. Neither Lowrie nor the Mets will even get specific about why Lowrie’s left knee remains such a problem after it limited him to a paltry nine games, eight plate appearances and zero field appearances last year.
“Lowrie isn’t gonna play a game this year,” a talent evaluator from another club predicted on the condition of anonymity.
Spring-training limbo leads to such prognostication and curiosity. The Mets, like all teams, strive to limit no players to these simulations. Until or unless Cespedes and Lowrie graduate to the real thing, however, these quiet contests will generate their own considerable share of buzz.