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 15

Updating Mets’ Top Ten Offseason Issues

Maybe the Mets made Bartolo Colon an offer. I haven’t heard. So far this winter their heavy lifting has included picking up the options of Jay Bruce and Jose Reyes, and extending qualifying offers to Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker.

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

Other than that, it has been a relatively quiet offseason for GM Sandy Alderson. With the Winter Meetings less than a month away, here is what I see as Alderson’s Top Ten priorities:

1. Keep Bruce for now: There is an Internet report stating the Mets are talking with Toronto about Jay Bruce. It makes sense from the perspective of the Blue Jays, who could lose both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to free agency.

Reportedly, the Mets have feelers out on Bautista, although I prefer Encarnacion, who could enter into a first base platoon with Lucas Duda.

However, trading Bruce with the Cespedes situation unresolved makes no sense. They picked up Bruce’s option as a safety net for losing Cespedes, so what’s the point of dealing him without know what happens with Cespedes?

2. Decide on Cespedes: For a myriad of reasons, I believe the Mets should let Cespedes play through to the next hole. You guys know that by now. However, the Mets insist they want him back.

Fine. If that’s their position, get Cespedes’ contractual demands as soon as possible and go from there. He already rejected the Mets’ qualifying offer, so they would be in their right to ask what the player wants and go from there.

With a new CBA on the table, this could extend into January, which wouldn’t be prudent.

3. Bring back Reed: Yes, I know Addison Reed isn’t a free agent unless the Mets pass on him. Sign Reed and establish him now as the closer because they have to know Jeurys Familia will be suspended for at least 30 games.

If not Reed, the Mets have to go in on a closer. They won’t pay the big bucks for Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, but what about Mark Melancon? He won’t be cheap, either.

4. Bolster the bullpen: Without Familia and the change of roles with Reed, there are other bullpen holes. Will they bring back Jerry Blevins? Will Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have starting or bullpen roles? With Colon gone, the Mets could go for a middle reliever capable of multiple innings. Is that guy Hansel Robles or somebody in the market?

5. Define the back-up infielders: For somebody coming off back surgery, a $17.2 million qualifying offer to Neil Walker was fairly generous. It was a no-brainer to bring back Walker to team with Asdrubal Cabrera would solidify the double-play combination for another year. The offer will undoubtedly frustrate Wilmer Flores, but there has to be some area of consistency. It’s unlikely they can trade Flores, but if he’s on the 25-man roster what will that mean for T.J. Rivera?

6. Figure out what to do with Conforto: First base seems a reach for Michael Conforto. If they try that, the platoon with Duda should be with a right-handed hitter. They would be better off earmarking him for center field, because we know Cespedes doesn’t want to play there.

Defining Conforto’s role should also help dictate how they’ll use Curtis Granderson.

7. Figure out Wright’s role: I’d like to know now, but realize that’s not practical. But, assuming for the moment he’s healthy, is there a rough projection of how he’ll be used and how much? Seriously, is first base a realistic option?

8. Determine the health of the rotation: Four pitchers from this vaunted future All-Star staff are coming off surgery. The early reports are positive, and that includes no surgery to remove Noah Syndergaard’s bone spurs. But, we really won’t know until March.

If everything works out for the best, Alderson and manager Terry Collins must figure out where Lugo and Gsellman fit and resist the temptation of dealing either because they think they are in a position of strength because they are not.

I wouldn’t be opposed to picking up a veteran as insurance.

9. Improve the catching: If they enter the season with Travis d’Arnaud as the starter, it has to be with a short leash. He’s been frequently injured and unproductive, and frankly the rotation performs better with Rene Rivera.

10. Determine Duda’s leash: Duda is another prone to injuries and slow starts. They had to sign James Loney last summer and he performed well. However, it is unlikely they’ll bring him back.

Duda has monster power, but the past few years it has taken him into the second half before he warms up.

Other than Cespedes – pro or con – I don’t see the Mets making a major personnel decision this winter. But, whatever they decide, it will have far-reaching ramifications.

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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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Nov 14

Mets Shouldn’t Think Of Dealing Bruce Without Cespedes Resolution

MLB Trade Rumors reported the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in trading with the Mets for outfielder Jay Bruce. This is in anticipation of Toronto losing outfielder Jose Bautista and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. That’s smart thinking on the Blue Jays’ part as they are likely to lose both.

Personally, I’d love for the Mets to sign Encarnacion, but after studying the early reports, I’m not thinking they can afford him. To do what they must do, I don’t think they can afford Yoenis Cespedes, either.

BRUCE: Don't trade insurance just yet. (AP)

BRUCE: Don’t trade insurance just yet. (AP)

As far as the Mets dealing Bruce, that would be crazy to do now. They picked up his option in anticipation of losing Cespedes. The Mets say they want to bring him back, but with what he’s asking and if negotiations for a new CBA drag, talks with Cespedes can last into January.

Cespedes, as expected, rejected the Mets’ $17.2 million qualifying offer. Since he turned down the Mets’ initial obligatory offer, the next negotiating move is for him to state what he wants. That seems simple enough.

If he walks and Bruce has been traded, the Mets will without any substantial power – left or right-handed. They can’t afford to wait until late July again for Curtis Granderson to wake up and nobody knows what to expect from Lucas Duda. GM Sandy Alderson is walking a tightrope with Cespedes, which is why I want him to push the envelope now.

If they want him, go for it hard. If their offers are for show – as they were with Jose Reyes – then walk away and build around Bruce, who, by the way, is younger and would come cheaper.

But, dealing Bruce without a resolution on Cespedes is simply reckless.

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Nov 09

Nationals Have Interest In Cespedes

The posturing has begun in the pursuit of Yoenis Cespedes, and in what should come as no surprise, it involves the Washington Nationals, otherwise known as the Mets’ arch-enemy.

The 95-win Nationals in 2016 made a run at Cespedes prior to last season, but he backed out because he didn’t like the deferred money. (This should tell you something about Cespedes. He’s not looking to set himself up for the future, which a deferred contract provide, but wants the big nut right away.)

CESPEDES: Favors big payment. (AP)

CESPEDES: Favors big payment. (AP)

It suggests there’s little wiggle room between Cespedes and the Mets. If Cespedes retired right now he should be able to live more than comfortably on the $27.5 million the Mets gave him last year. Did he squander it on all those cars he drove to spring training last season? I might be wrong, but this does suggest Cespedes could be careless with his money.

Even so, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo could make another run at Cespedes, who would play left, with Jayson Werth moving to right and Bryce Harper playing center field.

The Nationals are currently in the midst of negotiating their local television deal with MASN. Rizzo said talks with the network are sluggish, but added if he really wants a player ownership isn’t likely to block him, say, the way the Wilpons would put the brakes on GM Sandy Alderson.

“We’ve always been given the resources here by ownership to field the best team we can put on the field,” Rizzo told The Washington Post. “We’re looking to improve the club any way we can. If it makes sense for use, he improves any team he plays on.”

Not only that, but signing Cespedes also weakens the Mets.

A middle part of the order featuring Werth, Harper, Cespedes and Daniel Murphy would be frightening, arguably putting Washington’s offense on a par with the Cubs.

The Nationals could make room for Cespedes financially (their 2016 payroll was $145 million) if they don’t bring back catcher Wilson Ramos and closer Mark Melancon, both of whom could fill two holes for the Mets.

The keys for Cespedes landing in Washington would be a quick resolution to the MASN negotiations and for the 31-year-old outfielder to bend a little when it comes to a deferred contract. It worked out for Bobby Bonilla, whose deferred deal with the Mets pays him $1.19 million annually until 2035 when he will be 72 years old.

That’s a damn good IRA, and this is even before Bonilla touches his MLB pension or starts drawing Social Security.

It’s a wonder more players don’t opt to do this. For the Mets, this is something they might entice David Wright to do if they ever want to buy him out.

However, Cespedes’ refusal to take deferred money could raise red flags for the Mets. GM Sandy Alderson can interpret that as a negotiating tool he no longer has and force him to offer more than he’d like for the life of the contract. That weakens the Mets’ bargaining position.

It’s too soon to project where Cespedes lands, but Washington isn’t a bad place to start.

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