In the melting pot of New York City, what better than players from the Dominican Republic (Reyes), Venezuela (Cabrera) and Cuba (Cespedes) joining forces so emphatically? All three players dyed their hair blond during the playoff push.
But a season later, with the Mets now burdened with injuries and inconsistencies and a record that was seven games under .500 going into Tuesday’s game in Miami, the dynamics of this three-way friendship have begun to shift. Cespedes remains tied to the Mets through a long-term deal, but both Reyes and Cabrera face uncertain futures with the team.
That they may not be teammates much longer has not been lost on them. All three are veterans who have been traded before. All three know how baseball works.
“This is a business,” Reyes said recently in Spanish. “You never know how long we’re going to be together. We have to enjoy and take advantage of this time we have together as much as we can.”
The difference between last season’s harmony and this season’s challenges was dramatized last Friday as the Mets began a weekend series in San Francisco.
It was then that Cabrera, newly returned from the disabled list, publicly expressed his unhappiness at suddenly finding himself playing second base. Even the fact that Reyes was the one replacing him at his regular position, shortstop, did not appease him. Instead, Cabrera asked the Mets for a trade.
The Mets had decided to make the shift because of Cabrera’s regression on defense at shortstop. His range has diminished, and he was making too many errors.
Reyes, on the other hand, has been struggling at the plate. He had hit so poorly — a .191 average — that he had been benched at times.
And then there is Cespedes, who has spent a chunk of this season dealing with another string of frustrating leg injuries, although he remains the team’s most dynamic player.
What has not changed, however, is the close relationship the three players enjoy. Reyes, 34, is by far the most energetic of the three. Cabrera, 31, is more talkative than he first appears. Cespedes, 31, is the most reserved and enigmatic.
“But when I’m near them, I talk a little more and I’m more open,” Cespedes said in Spanish. “Being around those two, I feel good.”
The three instantly connected last season because of their shared language, similar cultures and comparable statures as established players.
“It’s about being Latino, speaking the same language and, in their case, the experience they have,” Cespedes said, explaining why he gravitated toward Reyes and Cabrera. “They’re more experienced than I am.”
In his 11 years in the major leagues, Cabrera said he had never had such a close bond with teammates as he does now with Cespedes and Reyes. They talk about everything, from families to baseball. They trust one another enough to poke fun but also to offer constructive criticism.
Cespedes and Cabrera have constantly been in the ear of the struggling Reyes about being calmer at the plate. Reyes, who endured many leg injuries earlier in his career, has advised Cespedes on how to deal with the ones he is now encountering. And when Cespedes did not run hard on a double last September, it was Cabrera and Reyes who spoke to him before Collins did.
“There’s no fear between us,” Reyes said. “We’re very united, not just in the good moments but the bad ones, too.”
Cabrera added: “We’re very sincere. We’re not two-faced when we tell each other things, like not talking about the bad things with the other.”
Still, this past week tested the friendship. Cabrera spoke with Reyes before he told reporters that he wanted to be traded. Cespedes then talked to Cabrera afterward.
Cabrera heard the same message from both of them: “It doesn’t matter where they put him to play, he just has to go out on the field and do his job,” Cespedes said.
Reyes called the situation “very sensitive.” Cabrera’s honesty with reporters startled Reyes, but he also said he understood “that in that moment that’s what he wanted to say.”
However blunt the discussions were between the three of them after Cabrera spoke out, it seemed to pass. Back on the field last weekend, Cabrera, Reyes and Cespedes exchanged high-fives and smiled as they had so many times before.
In the clubhouse, they fire jokes at one another. They often sit together on the team charter plane and get meals together on the road. Reyes, a voracious user of social media, frequently posts videos of Cabrera and Cespedes.