"Why?” Cespedes playfully replied after Long tossed batting practice to him Sunday. “You should've called me. I would have told you I was coming back.”
With perhaps the most fanfare since Pedro Martinez arrived in Port St. Lucie more than a decade ago, Cespedes sent a buzz into Mets camp when he reported Sunday -- three days before the required date for position players.
Cespedes re-signed with the Mets for three years, $75 million late in the offseason, catching even team officials off-guard. Cespedes can opt out after earning $27.5 million this season.
Asked why he re-signed and then arrived early, Cespedes said in Spanish: "I feel great being a part of this team. I decided to come back here because I knew I was not going to find a team where I would feel better and at home the way I do here. Although baseball is a business, not everything is about money. You have to play where you feel comfortable. I know I can be a free agent next year, but that has never even passed through my mind. I came here to play my three years with the Mets, and I hope God will give me the opportunity for them to re-sign me after that.
"It's amazing how just playing here two months had such an impact. I had several offers, but sincerely, I just wanted to come back to the Mets. I wish it was for a longer time, not because of money, but I just want to be with this team. Hopefully at the end of my three years I will have performed very well and they will give me an extension. I love it here.”
Cespedes produced off-the-charts numbers with the Mets a season ago, after arriving in a non-waiver deadline deal with the Detroit Tigers for right-handed prospect Michael Fulmer. Cespedes hit .287 with 17 homers and 44 RBIs in 230 at-bats during the regular season with the Amazin’s. That is production Long suggested may be difficult for Cespedes to duplicate this year.
“Could we really expect him to stay at that pace?” Long asked after tossing batting practice to Cespedes on Sunday. “I don’t know that that was realistic. It is baseball and you’re going to go through some peaks and some valleys. Unfortunately he wasn’t red hot during the playoffs. Listen, he carried us for so long.”
Still, manager Terry Collins won’t discount getting similar production this season from Cespedes.
“He’s pretty good,” Collins said. “My years in Pittsburgh, they kept saying the same thing about Barry [Bonds] -- ‘Well, he can’t do that again next year.’ No, he just did better. We just have to wait and see how he does.”
As for Cespedes arriving early to camp, Collins added: “We didn’t know if we were going to get him back. Certainly with all of the conversations and all the contracts we saw out there, we weren’t sure he was going to return. I really, really salute him. He’s one of the few guys that went to where he wanted to go to. It wasn’t just the money that lured him. It was, hey, look, he wanted to play in New York. He loves New York. He loves the fans. I salute him for coming back.
“And now he shows up early. I told him today, ‘That’s the sign of a real pro and a guy who wants to be huge in our clubhouse.’ I just think it’s a great step for him.”