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 14

Walker Accepts Mets’ Qualifying Offer

Coming off back surgery, Neil Walker had little choice but to accept the Mets’ $17.2-million qualifying offer. He had to figure surgery would have limited interest, so it was best to take the guaranteed money and try the market again next offseason.

It was a no-brainer on his part, just as the qualifying offer was to the Mets.

“Happy to say I’m back in Orange and Blue in 2017! Let’s go Mets,” Walker posted on his Twitter account Monday afternoon.

Walker, who came to the Mets in a trade for Jon Niese, helped carry them for much of the season before undergoing season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk. The 31-year-old Walker, who replaced NL MVP candidate Daniel Murphy, hit .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBI before his season ended.

ESPN reported the Mets’ 2017 payroll commitment is now roughly $124 million. That could go as high as $150 million should the Mets bring back Yoenis Cespedes.

Had the Mets not retained Walker, second base could have come down to Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera. They will now be relegated to the bench roles.

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Sep 01

Three Mets’ Storylines: Something Not Right With DeGrom

Evidently, those three extra days of rest didn’t help Jacob deGrom or the Mets. Also not helpful to the Mets was the image of deGrom heading up the tunnel to the clubhouse and motioning trainer Ray Ramirez to follow him.

Uh oh, what else could go wrong?

“That’s news to me,” manager Terry Collins said when asked about deGrom motioning to the trainer. “What you just informed me of is very troubling to me. … Jacob deGrom is a huge piece for us.”

DE GROM: Not right. (AP)

DE GROM: Not right. (AP)

How could the manager not know, unless, of course, deGrom wanted to talk to somebody else? Even so, television replays clearly showed Ramirez followed deGrom down the tunnel.

“Everything is fine,” insisted deGrom. “I just wanted to talk to Ray. I felt out of sync out there, but nothing is wrong.”

Collins pushed deGrom back three days when it was concluded fatigue was the factor for why he was torched for 13 runs on 25 hits in his previous two starts.

DeGrom – now 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA– appeared to overcome a strained lat muscle early this season, but red flags were raised with his previous two starts and his velocity dropping to 91 mph., in Thursday night’s 6-4 loss to the Miami Marlins.

However, it’s more than just fatigue or a drop of velocity. DeGrom still lives on the outer half of the plate and won’t challenge hitters inside. Could it be a lack of confidence in his fastball?

Collins initially planned to push deGrom back until Friday against Washington, but those plans changed when Steven Matz was sidelined with a rotator cuff impingement. So, deGrom moved up a day and gave up three runs on six hits and a season-high four walks in five innings.

It wasn’t a good line, and neither were the 102 pitches he threw in that span. High pitch counts have been a persistent problem all season for deGrom, Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

“His command is not what it has been,” Collins said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

When a pitcher’s command leaves him, it is usually because of fatigue, injury or mechanics. DeGrom said it was the last option.

“It’s mechanics,” deGrom said. “I can’t throw the ball where I want to.”

The Mets began the season with a highly-regarded rotation of Matt Harvey, deGrom, Matz, Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon, who was to move to the rotation in July in favor of Zack Wheeler. That rotation was supposed to return the Mets to the World Series, but injuries cost them Harvey, Matz and Wheeler for the season; a bone spur in his elbow hampered Syndergaard; and deGrom was bothered by the strained lat muscle.

The Mets had won nine of their previous 11 games before tonight to climb back into the race. Returning to the playoffs is contingent on a lot of factors, with deGrom’s health now at the top of the list.

Regardless of what Collins said, things will be anxious for the Mets until deGrom pitches again.

Tonight’s other storylines were the return of Michael Conforto and the rise of another Met Killer.

CONFORTO RETURNS: Conforto was part of the Mets call-ups from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .493 (33-for-67) with six homers and 13 RBI in 17 games.

Conforto reached base in his first three plate appearances on an opposite-field double, when he was plunked on the calf and when Christian Yelich dropped his fly ball in left center.

That he hit the ball hard to the opposite field on the error was a good sign.

MET KILLER: The Mets have been tortured by the likes of Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones, Pat Burrell, Giancarlo Stanton, and, of course, Daniel Murphy.

You can add Yelich, who drove in four runs on three hits, including a homer. He also made a diving catch of a sinking line drive hit by deGrom with the bases loaded that could have saved three runs.

Yelich has hit four homers against the Mets this year, including three in this series.

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Aug 31

Walker’s Season Likely Over; What Of Career With Mets?

UPDATED: Walker facing surgery.

Before leaving the podium, Mets manager Terry Collins dropped the other shoe. After all, they wouldn’t be the Mets if they didn’t encore good news with bad. This time, it was the sobering news Neil Walker was facing having season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck.

“This is a big disappointment,” said a dejected Collins. “He’s had a big year for us.”

The announcement came moments after Kelly Johnson‘s three-run double in the eighth inning proved the difference in the Mets’ 5-2 victory over Miami. The other two runs came on Wilmer Flores‘ two-run homer. Ironically, Johnson and Flores figure to get the lion’s share of the time at second base with Walker gone.

WALKER: Status unknown. (AP)

WALKER: Facing surgery. (AP)

With the victory, the Mets have won nine of their last 11 games to climb back into the wild-card race. They are in it, also in large part, because of what Walker gave them in April with nine homers and 19 RBI and his hot streak in early August.

In April, there were numerous reports about the need to bring Walker back for 2017, because with Yoenis Cespedes expected to opt out, the Mets couldn’t afford to lose both.

With Walker’s season over, one must wonder if the same can be said of his Mets’ career. Walker can leave as a free agent this winter, but the injury takes away whatever leverage he had because a bad back represents a terrible credit report.

As good as Walker played, perhaps an even longer-lasting impression is David Wright. Looking at how long Wright struggled might have been a deciding factor in Walker’s decision. After all, having surgery now might enhance his chances of playing next season considering a six-month recovery time.

Somebody will sign Walker, but it will likely be a one-year deal with incentives based on games played. Considering what they’ve gone through with Wright, I’m not sure they’ll go in that direction with Walker.

Walker was having a tremendous season, hitting .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBI. In 23 games since July 27, Walker was batting .440 with seven homers, 15 RBI and 19 runs scored. That’s a significant loss for a team in a pennant race.

For the short term, the Mets are in decent position at second base with Flores and Johnson.

When Daniel Murphy left, there was speculation Flores could inherit second base, but that notion was quickly dashed when the Mets signed Walker. Then, when Wright went down, Flores was to play third, but that changed when Jose Reyes was signed.

Now, with Walker gone, Flores might finally be getting his chance.

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Jul 09

Three Mets’ Storylines: Murphy Deserves This

Daniel Murphy is just piling it on the Mets now. The one-time Met turned Mets tormenter with Washington stuck it to his former team again Saturday night.

Murphy drove in four runs on three hits – including a homer; missing a second by a few feet – in a 6-1 Nationals’ rout that opened their lead over the Mets to a comfy five games in the NL East. Murphy is a big part of that lead. Had he stayed with the Mets and produced the same numbers, you can make an argument the standings could be flipped.

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

Ask GM Sandy Alderson why they are not.“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

Murphy is batting .437 with six homers and 19 RBI against the Mets. Overall, he’s hitting .349 with 16 homers and 64 RBI and if the season ended today, and it’s getting close to that feeling with the Mets, he would be a MVP frontrunner.

And, I couldn’t be happier for him. As a sportswriter, I root for good stories and Murphy is a good story. He was a great story last October, and before that was always an interesting story for the Mets.

For some reason only Alderson and the Wilpons know – but haven’t been forthcoming about – the Mets didn’t want him back, only giving him a $15.8-million token qualifying offer.

Maybe his politically-incorrect statements was the decider. Definitely, he didn’t fit Alderson’s Sabremetrics profile, which I always felt was overrated. His defense was never top drawer, but the first-place Nationals don’t seem to have a problem with his glove.

Murphy was a homegrown Met who always busted his hump for the team. He had some brain cramps, but there was never a problem with his heart.

I always liked Murphy when he played with the Mets and wanted him back, although I never believed Alderson would pull that trigger. The kicker is Murphy, after working with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, showed the power stroke last year in the second half in the playoffs he’s flashing now.

One of the things I always liked about Murphy is he’s not a chest-thumper. When asked if he’s having fun, especially in the park where he blossomed last year in the playoffs, Murphy said: “We’re playing well. [Being called a] post-season hero is humbling, but there were 25 guys over there last year.”

Last year seems like a long time ago, and with each Murphy at-bat it’s getting further away. I don’t know if the Mets can regroup and challenge Washington after the break, but I am happy to see him thriving.

Murphy deserves to be a headliner, and could be one through 2018 with the Nationals, while the player they replaced him with – Neil Walker – could walk after this season.

Murphy was the main storyline Saturday. The two others were the Mets’ continued inability to hit with RISP and how Antonio Bastardo adds nothing to the bullpen.

METS WITH RISP: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a significant issue all season. They were 0-5 with RISP and stranded seven runners. If there was a turning point in the game it came in the first when the Mets had runners on second and third with no outs and came away with only one run.

Max Scherzer, who no-hit the Mets last year and has 29 strikeouts in three starts against them this season, struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo to get out of the inning.

“It’s an age-old story,” Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you have a pitcher like [Scherzer] on the ropes early, you’d better get him.”

All season Collins said the Mets are built on power, which is not the optimum way to construct a team. Of all the telling stats about the Mets, perhaps the most significant is they have won only five games in which they did not hit a homer.

BASTARDO BOMBS OUT: Bastardo is not why they lost tonight, but continued to be a weak link in the bullpen.

Murphy took him deep tonight and also on Thursday. He has a 4.91 ERA and as simply not produced as the situational lefty.

The Mets enter the break with no shortage of needs, and a lefty in the bullpen is one of them.