Top 100 Mets: #95 - Roger Cedeno, Part I

Roger Cedeno's two stints with the Mets provide a simply stunning contrast. The unexpected fruit of Steve Phillips' most creative trade, Cedeno tapped all of his talents in 1999 to become one of the most exciting young players in the Mets' recent history.  When Cedeno was reacquired in 2002, fans were surprised to find his talents were so thoroughly obscured by his sluggish, unconfident, and confused play.  (Free Preview of Premium Content)

His is the story of two entirely different players, and of a bewildering loss of fundamental execution and production that mirrored the fates of the Mets teams he played on.

The switch-hitting Cedeno was signed out of Venezuela by the Dodgers in 1991 and made his debut the following year. He produced with the bat immediately and was promoted aggressively, establishing himself as a .300 hitter with a good eye and great speed in the minors. He made his major league debut at the age of 20, an indication of maturity and talent for any player, and looked like the Dodgers' leadoff hitter of the future.

The prospect's career stalled, however, upon reaching Los Angeles. Cedeno was used strictly as a bench player in his rookie year, and he could not break into the starting lineup for any extended period of time as a Dodger. His offensive numbers were generally poor, and he averaged less than ten stolen bases per season.

When Cedeno was included in the three-way trade centered around the disposal of Todd Hundley and the acquisition of Armando Benitez, his potential had largely been forgotten. Cedeno was expected to fill an outfield bench role. Rumors of a breakout season, however, began early: beat writers at Port St. Lucie raved about the newcomer's talents, especially his speed, which seemed to have improved dramatically. On opening day of 1999 Bobby Bonilla debuted at least 30 pounds overweight and utterly incapable of playing an adequate defensive outfield; it became immediately clear that one of the bench outfielders would get a very good chance pick up playing time.

Cedeno began getting regular starts after a couple minor injuries to Rickey Henderson left the Mets in need of a leadoff hitter. He performed impressively with the bat, but his baseball legend grew on his performances on the basepaths. Roger stole bases. On May 14 Roger stole 4 bases, and three days later he stole 3 bases, despite entering the game late as a pinch-hitter. Cedeno would steal at every available oppurtinity. He reached on infield hits, outran double play balls, and flashed range in the outfield. He seemed impossibly fast.

Roger's Career With Mets





















































The speed wouldn't have mattered had Cedeno not hit. Roger finally cashed in on the .300 average ability that he flashed in the minors; more impressively, he walked 60 times in 453 ABs to post a sterling .396 OBP. Those abilities typified the '99 Mets, who led the NL in OBP by getting strong performances from every spot of their lineup. Cedeno capped of his 1999 performance by hitting .421 and stealing 3 bases in the playoffs.

We pause now to analyse Roger Cedeno in the winter of 1999. With his enormous speed and outstanding ability to get on base, Cedeno was one of the best leadoff hitters in the majors (despite batting primarily in the #7 spot). He appeared defensively apt - his arm was strong enough to play rightfield and his speed obviously qualified him for any outfield spot. At the age of 24, with an improving batting eye and toolsy hitting skills, he looks like a strong candidate to be the Mets' leadoff hitter into the future. Taking a more critical eye to Roger's numbers, one could point out that much of his improvement was an "empty" bump in batting average unlikely to be sustained. That limited pessimism would be inadequate to explain the problems Cedeno was soon to experience.

The following winter Cedeno was packaged along with pitchers Octavio Dotel and Kyle Kessel to Houston in order to bring Mike Hampton to Shea Stadium. The deal was hotly contested; although Hampton was clearly the superior player for the Mets' 2000 title run, many doubted the wisdom of trading away two of the best young players for a man just a year away from free agency. Outside of Shea, Cedeno's career again stalled. Although he produced when in the lineup for the Astros, he struggled to earn playing time in the crowded and talented outfield. The next offseason found Cedeno making another move - this time to Detroit in a 7-man deal.

Roger Cedeno's Tigers career would only last one year. A cursory glance at the statistics would indicate a success. But lurking behind the strong .293 batting average was a perilous drop in his plate discipline; only 36 walks in 523 ABs produced a just barely acceptable .337 OBP, a number embarrasingly low compared to his previous two years.
D. Henson
Roger Cedeno: Roger's defensive skills have always been a liability.
More frightening was Cedeno's defensive play. Roger was possibly the worst defensive regular in the majors in 2000, a shocking digression from his previously solid work. Cedeno appeared confused in the field, taking such terrible routes on fly balls that his natural speed was rendered useless. On top of his questionable production, a dispute with Phil Garner led to Cedeno being benched at the end of the season and guaranteed that he would never again play for the Tigers.

The signs pointed, improbably, to a loss of baseball intelligence. Scouts began to claim that he had the worst instincts in baseball. Nonetheless Steve Phillips signed Roger to a four year deal, undoubtedly recalling the confident and impressive young man that Mets fans had been treated to three years earlier. Signed through the prime of his career, there was reasonable hope that if Cedeno could get his head together at the plate and on the field, he would justify the deal.

Mets fans were disappointed immediately. In April Roger hit only .202, scoring a pathetic 5 runs and stealing a pathetic 2 bases. Although his batting would improve marginally throughout the season, the other facets of his game suffered even more. He had clearly gained weight, probably 20 pounds, during his sojourn away from Shea, and the amazing speed was gone. The depletion of his fielding abilities was shocking; Cedeno had all the tools to play a plus leftfield but manned the position with the grace of Todd Hundley. The signing was justly declared a mistake after just one year, and his contract declared unmoveable. When in November Roger was arrested in Florida for a DUI, it looked like he was no longer taking his career seriously.

If 2002 promted fans to ponder the dramatic change in Cedeno's abilities and production, 2003 sent heads scratching in the direction of management. Art Howe announced in spring training that Roger would be the everyday centerfielder, a confusing if not reckless decision given his defensive problems the previous year. Cedeno's reign of terror in center began on opening day. In the first inning Roger "played" a flyball to the warning track in left-center by calmly walking in towards the infield, missing the catchable ball by more than 50 feet. Such errors became commonplace and before long it was obvious to any casual fan that the Mets would never win with the majors' worst defender at a key position. Conspiracy theories abounded, blaming either Phillips or Fred Wilpon for mandating that Cedeno start to justify his contract. A month into the season, an exasperated Art Howe announced that Roger Cedeno had played centerfield for the last time in 2003.

Roger's bat heated up after moving to a more comfortable rightfield, but his defensive play remained dicey. Hot months were balanced with cold months, and at the end of the year his offensive numbers hadn't improved from the previous year. The best proof of the abject state of his talents was the glaringly low stolen base total: just 14.

Moving into the 2003/2004 offseason, Roger Cedeno's future is unclear with the Mets. He remains under contract for 2 years and $10 million, a difficult salary to move. In the final weeks of the season, the famously unflappable Tom Glavine expressed visible frustration on the mound with a series of defensive miscues in right, and given Glavine's esteem with owner Wilpon, it is likely that ownership has finally soured on the Cedeno as well. There is now an air of uncertainty surrounding Roger's place on the team. We do not yet know if Roger's final chapter has been written with the Mets. Fans seem confident, however, that there will be no final up in an up and down career. Simultaneously one of the greatest surprises and biggest busts in Mets history, Roger Cedeno sneaks onto the list at #95.

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