Nov 16

Five Reasons Nationals Have Pressing Need For Cespedes

According to multiple reports, the Mets still covet Yoenis Cespedes, and their plan appears to wait him out as they did last winter and gamble he’ll fall back into their laps. It paid off because for all the lip service Cespedes gave for liking New York, he wasn’t enamored with the Nationals’ offer of deferred salary.

It worked once, so why not twice?

HARPER: Needs help. (AP)

HARPER: Needs help. (AP)

Last winter there were two serious players for Cespedes, the Mets and Nationals. However, this offseason, San Franciso, the Dodgers, Toronto and Yankees have also been linked to Cespedes with varying degrees of interest.

The Nationals, who despite the addition of Daniel Murphy, overtook the Mets in the NL East in 2016, but once again were unable to get past the division series. Such mounting frustration could entice the Nationals to be a major competitor for Cespedes.

If Cespedes winds up in Washington, the Nationals will likely move Jayson Werth from left to right and Bryce Harper from right to center. A projected middle-of-the-order with Werth, Murphy, Cespedes, Harper is more than imposing.

Here’s why this could be a burning issue for the Nationals:

Mounting frustration: The Nationals have consistently failed to get past the division series, and this must be gnawing at them. It sure does when watching Harper. For the Mets, their frustration stemmed from six losing seasons. However, it’s different for the Nationals, who won – and often easily – the NL East, but stumbled in the first round of the playoffs. They’ve acquired quality pitching, but their offense has been stagnant and needs an infusion. Murphy helped, but it wasn’t enough as Werth and Harper had down years. Cespedes could be that guy, and as an added bonus to Washington, when the other bats are producing it will take pressure off him.

Need a buffer for Werth: This is Werth’s final season of a seven-year, $126-million contract (he’ll get $21 this year). He hasn’t lived up to the money as they hoped and combined with the decline of Ryan Zimmerman (signed through 2019), the Nationals need to bolster their right-handed offense.

Harper window closing: Harper is salary arbitration eligible for 2017, but will be a free agent after that season. This is a guy who’ll command major bucks. The Nationals must prepare to lose him, and Cespedes could be their safety net.

Don’t want to waste pitching: The Nationals have a strong staff with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and much like the Mets with their young rotation, they don’t want to waste their prime years.

Sticking it to the Mets: As they did with Daniel Murphy, the Nationals would relish the opportunity to stick it to the Mets. To the Nationals, 2015 was a fluke, and in their collective minds this is a chance to restore their world order. Of course, it is up to the Mets to prevent this, but it will cost them.

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Nov 05

Cespedes To Opt Out Today

By midnight today, Yoenis Cespedes will tell the Mets he is opting out of his contract to pursue the riches of free agency.

The Mets have expected him to leave since they gave him the opt-out clause after one season of a three-year, $75-million contract. In reality, they never him to come back after he was close to signing a five-year, $110-million deal with Washington.

CESPEDES: Where is he running to? (AP)

    CESPEDES: Where is he running to? (AP)

Somehow, Cespedes eschewed that contract for the Mets. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the World Series experience.

I’ve written several times how the Mets would be better off letting Cespedes go and spend the money elsewhere. I know that it is an unpopular position because we’re supposed to be enamored with Cespedes’ power, but frankly, he’s too high-maintenance for the money.

I’m annoyed he hustles when the mood strikes; that he played golf when he should have been rehabbing his quad; and he couldn’t play centerfield, which pretty much ended Michael Conforto’s play in left field.

If he comes back and has to play left, it stunts Conforto’s development. I certainly don’t want the Mets to fool around with Conforto at first base just to placate Cespedes.

The Mets will make a qualifying offer, which Cespedes will reject to accept a $100-million package with somebody else.

There are a handful of teams Cespedes where could land, but remember the Nationals were the only team to make an offer last year.

The Nationals could go after Cespedes again, which would entail Bryce Harper moving to center and Jayson Werth going to right. An outfield of Cespedes, Harper and Werth could be imposing.

San Francisco, which needs offense and with left fielder Angel Pagan to become a free agent, could be a player. Another possibility is Toronto, which might lose Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, will certainly have the money.

Another option could be the Yankees. They have long-term outfield commitments to Jacoby Ellsbury and Bret Gardner, but with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez gone, they have a designated-hitter opening.

Conventional wisdom has Cespedes seeking a five-year contract, but last year’s leg problems must concern the Mets, and a DH position has to be appealing to him.

Sep 13

Mets’ Three Storylines: T.J. Rivera Steps Up

Pennant races aren’t just for guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper. They also belong to guys like T.J. Rivera, a undrafted free agent who carried the Mets on this night over their closest rivals.

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

Getting his first start in three weeks, Rivera had three hits including a tenth-inning homer that lifted the Mets over the Nationals, 4-3 in 10 innings, at Nationals Park Tuesday night. The victory, coupled with the Cardinals beating the Cubs in St. Louis, kept the Mets with a half-game lead for the second wild-card (they are even in the loss column).

“Somebody you don’t expect has to step up and tonight it was T.J.,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s been. He has a simple, short swing.”

In 45 at-bats since joining the Mets, Rivera his hitting .333 with his first career homer and six RBI. He’s also been solid defensively, regardless of where Collins starts him.

“It’s definitely not to hit a home run,” Rivera said of his thinking heading to the plate against Nationals closer Mark Melancon. “I just wanted to put the bat on the ball. When you haven’t been around the team much you want to contribute.”

With Neil Walker out for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores currently hurting following a home plate collision Saturday in Atlanta, Rivera should get more opportunities to play. Collins said it was a gut feeling to start Rivera, who won the Triple-A batting title for Las Vegas.

It’s probably a stretch to say Rivera could make the postseason roster, but he’s made enough of an impression to where he can compete for a job next spring.

Rivera was the main storyline, with the others being Noah Syndergaard’s wasted effort and Jerry Blevins picking up for Jeurys Familia.

TOUGH LUCK NOAH: Collins said with the Mets starting their best pitcher, this was a game they had to win. Syndergaard was poised to win his 14th game until Familia blew his fourth save opportunity in the ninth.

Syndergaard gave up one run on four hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts – including his 200th of the season – in one of his best outings of the season. Unlike previous outings where he ran up his pitch count, Syndergaard was extremely pitch efficient throwing 99.

“He was amped up,” Collins said. “He knew we needed to win this game.”

Syndergaard became the second-fastest Met behind Dwight Gooden to reach 200 strikeouts.

BLEVINS PICKS UP FAMILIA:  Familia blew his fourth save opportunity when the Nationals tied it on RBI singles by Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos (an infield chopper over Familia’s head).

After Rivera’s drive, the Nationals to tie the game again, but Blevins struck out Daniel Murphy on a wicked curveball to end the game.

It was his first save since 2012.

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May 26

Matz Passes Watershed Moment; Collins Should Be Applauded

There comes a time in every player’s path from prospect to star when he faces a watershed test he must pass, which is what happened to Mets pitcher Steven Matz Wednesday afternoon in Washington. Hopefully, it will be something Matz will wistfully recall down the road, perhaps before All-Star and playoff games.

MATZ: Passes the test. (AP)

MATZ: Passes the test. (AP)

Pitching coach Dan Warthen immediately recognized it and told manager Terry Collins, “we’re going to see what the kid is made of.”

The Mets were hanging to a slim 2-0 lead when the Nationals had a runner on with two outs in the eighth. Collins knew it, too, when he glanced into the Nationals’ dugout and saw Bryce Harper, the 2015 NL MVP, selecting a bat.

Matz was at 100 pitches and this was his last inning regardless and Collins had a warmed-up Jerry Blevins in the bullpen. The conventional choice, one Collins has frequently made in the past, was to go to the mound with his hand extended for the ball and pat Matz on the back.

Instead, Collins nodded to Warthen and did nothing.

“When you have a young player in certain situations, you have to challenge him,” Collins would say to reporters. “If he’s going to be a big winner for us, he’s got to learn to get the big out.”

It was an important gesture Collins and it was more than symbolic. It was one of confidence not lost on the young left-hander. It might turn out to be the most important decision Collins will make this season.

“It definitely means something,” said Matz, now 7-1 this year and already 11-1 in his young career. “As a competitor, you don’t want to come out in that situation. And for your manager to have faith in you to leave you out to face arguably the greatest hitter in the game right now, it’s pretty awesome.”

And, awesome was Matz’s response as he threw four more pitches – all fastballs – to wrap up his gem, the last one to get Harper to meekly ground out to second. From the other dugout, Nationals manager Dusty Baker made a comparison Mets’ fans should appreciate.

“You don’t see many lefties like that,” Baker told reporters. “He was very determined. He’s a good athlete. He reminded me of Jon Matlack back in my day, with the Mets. He was throwing the heck out of the ball, working quick. He threw a heck of a game. A heck of a game.”

Yeah, “heck” was a good term for Baker to use. We can go on for a long time raving about Matz, but for now Mets’ fans should settle for being grateful to have him.

And, for Collins’ unconventional, yet essential decision of loyalty to trust him.

As Matz’ career hopefully progresses to stardom, this will be a moment he will frequently recall.

May 24

Time For Matt Harvey To Man Up

It has come to this for the Mets’ Matt Harvey: Like a minor league call-up, his manager said he’s pitching to raise his confidence. The key isn’t to beat the Nationals – which would put the Mets back in first place – but to look good. Get some style points.

What is this, figure skating?

“I’m hoping, more than anything that he goes and gives us quality innings just to raise his confidence,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “Because once that confidence starts to come up, he’s going to be fine.”

HARVEY: Head up or head down tonight? (AP)

HARVEY: Head up or head down tonight? (AP)

“More than anything,” huh? “Just to raise his confidence,” huh? I’d rather have Harvey get chased in the second inning and the Mets rally to win than have this pitcher puzzle leave with a good feeling about himself and they lose. What’s next, giving him a participation trophy?

“Once that confidence starts to come up,” is another way of saying he doesn’t have any right now. And, offering him the out of not pitching is another way of Collins saying he doesn’t have much confidence in his “ace.” That might be true, but you don’t broadcast it. That’s a fine pat-on-the-back. What must the Nationals be thinking? After Harvey was booed off the mound last week, even Bryce Harper said he felt empathy for him.

Sweet.

As with most things surrounding Harvey, the Mets turned it into a drama.

Collins initially said he wasn’t sure if Harvey would start. Then, they floated the idea of moving him up to Monday, which would have bumped Bartolo Colon. In hindsight, that would have been a huge mistake.

Harvey threw a simulated game Saturday, was given the choice of skipping tonight if he wanted, then was given the start.

If you’re Collins, after Harvey was torched for nine runs in 2.2 innings, unless he’s hurt you say, “we have no intention of taking him out of the rotation.”

Collins said he was encouraged Harvey didn’t back down and wanted to pitch, but what else was he going to say? What other choice does Harvey have?

There’s a list of at least a dozen deep as to what is wrong with Harvey. Reasons or excuses? Take your pick.

Screw the issue of looking good, confidence and style points. If he’s the star both he and the Mets believe he is, then just pitch.

And if gets ripped again, Collins should send him out again. But, if there are any doubts, any thoughts of needing to do something, then send him to the minor leagues to get his head on straight.

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