By Ernie Palladino
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The two biggest disappointments in New York baseball this season have been Masahiro Tanaka and Yoenis Cespedes.
The difference is Tanaka at least knows enough to keep his dreams to himself and take responsibility for his actions.
If Cespedes had ever learned that lesson in the first place, he has forgotten it. His interview with the San Francisco Chronicle this week, featuring him telling a reporter about his longings to finish his career in Oakland with the best manager he’d ever had bypassed all the grace one should expect from any player in the first year of a four-year, $110 million deal.
Terry Collins let Cespedes off the hook Saturday because, quite honestly, the Mets’ manager has bigger fish to fry than dealing with the heartsick emotions of a struggling star. But the point here is that Cespedes, playing as badly as he has this year, owed much more to his current teammates and Collins.
The Mets are just now getting back to winning, sort of. The division lead and the wild-card race remain out of reach unless they replicate the miracle tear they went on at the end of 2015, when they first acquired Cespedes. But that is probably out of the question given the physical state of the pitching staff and the fact that Cespedes has just been too hurt to lead like he did in ‘15.
The 37 games missed from a variety of hurts has left him with just nine homers and 22 RBI in 50 games. While the batting average stands at a respectable .274, he has mostly been ineffective.
No one would have blamed Cespedes, either, had he not dodged the media when things went downhill. Throwing his manager under the bus last week completed a look far worse than his obsession with golf and three-wheeled roadsters created during 2016 training camp.
This had to do with class, something Tanaka has shown throughout his absolutely horrible season.
Considering the Japanese import has hit the opt-out year of a seven-year, $22 million per deal, he’d have every right to bristle at the questions after each of his failures. There have been plenty of those in a season that features a 7-9 record and 5.37 ERA and opposing hitters tagging him for a major league-high 26 homers.
Not only have CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, and Jordan Montgomery overshadowed the Yankees’ supposed ace, it is entirely possible that the pile of money that might have been awaiting Tanaka at year’s end has dissipated. The big payday probably won’t happen now for a 28-year-old who still has a partial ulnar tear in his pitching elbow.
Instead, he comes out after every start and explains what went wrong.
He takes responsibility, as he did after Saturday’s four-run, six-inning no-decision in Seattle. As he has done after all his 20 starts, eight of which included multiple homers served up.
“I don’t think any of my pitches were sharp,” he said through his translator.
“Obviously it’s disappointing, but it is what it is. You just have to keep on fighting, and that’s my intention.”
Whether or not Tanaka decides to look for greener surroundings after the season, he leaves no doubt that he will continue to give his best to his current team’s cause. There is still time for him to become a functional, important part of the postseason chase. But even if his troubles continue, at least his teammates will know he’s committed and engaged.
The Mets can’t say that about Cespedes, whose $29 million salary over the next three years pretty much ensures those Oakland dreams will have to wait.
If he really does want to finish up where he began — with Bob Melvin in Oakland — Cespedes will have to spend the rest of his time here acting like a team leader. That means producing and taking responsibility not just for the good times, but the bad as well.
He can start by looking at Tanaka, a fallen ace who doesn’t shy away from the hard questions afterward.
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