Mets slugger Céspedes says he expects to be ready for opener

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              FILE - In this July 20, 2018, file photo, New York Mets' Yoenis Cespedes stretches before the team's baseball game against the New York Yankees in New York. It’s been a bizarre offseason for the Mets — even by their standards. They dumped two different managers, cut Cespedes’ salary, and ownership took a swing at selling a controlling share of the franchise before the proposed deal collapsed. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Yoenis Céspedes expects to be ready to play by opening day. He said so himself.

Six days after saying he didn’t plan to speak to the media all season, the New York Mets slugger broke his silence Sunday.

Out of the lineup since July 2018 with heel problems, Céspedes said he planned to play in spring training games by the middle of March. And if all goes well, he intended to be in the lineup on March 26 when the Mets host the World Series champion Washington Nationals in the opener.

“If I continue progressing the way that I am, yes,” he told reporters through a translator. “I feel good. I’m happy with the progress. Every day I’m still working to get better and better. It’s not as fast as I want it to be, but as the season approaches, I’m feeling like I’m really good right now.”

Asked about his motivation level for this year, on a scale of one to 10, he answered in English: “Twelve.”

That’s a lot more than Céspedes said Monday, when he shut down media members who approached him in the clubhouse.

“Not today, not tomorrow, not at all this year,” he said.

The 34-year-old Céspedes has played in only 119 games in the first three seasons of a $110 million, four-year contract, only 38 since the end of the 2017 season.

The two-time All-Star outfielder was out for much of 2017 with hamstring strains, then missed more than two months in 2018 because of a strained hip flexor. He homered at Yankee Stadium in his return on July 20, then went back on the DL and had surgery to remove bone calcification from his right heel on Aug. 2, 2018, and his left that Oct. 26.

While recovering from surgery on his heels last May, Céspedes fractured his right ankle in multiple places in an accident at his ranch just west of the Mets’ training complex.

“I am not going to speak about the past,” Céspedes said. “I committed an error and paid the price for it, but today I will be talking about the present and the future.”

Céspedes and the Mets agreed in December to an amended contract that cut his base salary from $29.5 million to $6 million.

Céspedes would raise his pay to $11 million if he has one active day on the major league roster and to $20 million if he has 650 plate appearances — a figure he has reached just once.

“The money is important, but regardless I was going to come in with the same motivation whether the money was the same or any different,” he said. “The most important part, the big part of the motivation is the people who have been out there and have been saying that I can’t do it. So I’m going out there to prove that I can.”