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 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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Sep 14

Three Mets’ Storylines: Gsellman Hope For Future, And Present

The Mets got all they could have hoped for this afternoon – and season – from Robert Gsellman. The Mets’ rookie, who along with Seth Lugo kept them in the wild-card race and was again superb Wednesday afternoon.

GSELLMAN: Hope for future, and present. (AP)

GSELLMAN: Hope for future, and present. (AP)

Gsellman threw 5.2 scoreless innings with four strikeouts, but couldn’t overcome his anemic offense in the 1-0 loss to the Washington Nationals.

“We didn’t lose any ground,” was manager Terry Collins’ backwards logic because the National League’s wild-card race remained stagnant because both St. Louis and San Francisco also lost.

“I thought he threw the ball very well,” Collins said. “He threw strikes. He had the sinker working and had worked both sides. He didn’t have anything to work with.”

Gsellman and Lugo weren’t on the Mets’ radar entering the season, but have kept them afloat with Jacob deGrom (forearm) and Steven Matz (shoulder) went on the disabled list.

Their performances should give the Mets a sense of comfort heading into the offseason and next year, but it is somewhat limited considering the myriad of pitching questions they’ll have this winter:

* How well will Matt Harvey recover from his shoulder surgery?

* As well as Lugo and Gsellman have pitched, has their window been open enough to give the Mets a definitive idea of what they can expect in 2017, and in what roles?

* How well will Matz recover from his expected elbow surgery?

* Will Noah Syndergaard’s bone spur require surgery, and if so, how will he recover?

* With all this in mind, will they bring back Bartolo Colon?

While the Mets’ pitching questions for 2017 was a storyline, the others today were their anemic offense and Wilmer Flores’ injury.

ANEMIC OFFENSE: Three hits won’t cut it most games and it didn’t today.

After back-to-back singles from Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera to open the game against Tanner Roarck, the Mets eventually loaded the bases but came away empty.

The Mets’ only other hit was Jay Bruce’s single in the sixth. He was erased on a double-play and the Mets didn’t have another runner the rest of the game.

FLORES HURTING: Flores hasn’t played since injured in a home plate collision Saturday in Atlanta. Collins assumed responsibility for not running for Flores.

Flores said what is keeping him out isn’t his neck or head, but his right wrist.

“My wrist is bothering me,” Flores said. “I can’t swing the bat. The neck is fine. I could play with the neck. It’s just the wrist.”

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Sep 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Has Granderson Answered Wake-up Call?

The Mets have waited all season for Curtis Granderson to answer his wake up call. Did he finally pick up the phone?

Moved to the cleanup spot, Granderson drove in three runs with a sacrifice fly and two-run homer in the Mets’ 5-1 victory Sunday over the Washington Nationals.

i-1Granderson drove in two runs with a bases load single Saturday.

“When he’s hitting we’re a completely different team,” said manager Terry Collins.

Granderson has three homers, eight RBI and has scored six runs over his last six games, but even if he continues on a streak of historic proportions, he won’t finish with the numbers he envisioned coming out of spring training.

He’s hitting .222, but what is alarming is his homers-to-RBI ratio of 23-43.

Perhaps also warming up – just in time to his return to Cincinnati – is Jay Bruce, who had two hits, including a two-run homer.

With Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom currently out with injuries, the Mets might be in position where their offense must carry them.

With the victory, the Mets remain one game behind St. Louis for the second wild card. They have now won 11 of their last 15 games.

LUGO SUPERB AGAIN: About that comment about the offense carrying the Mets, well, that might not be the case if they continue to get strong pitching from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

Starting on the heels of Gsellman’s strong start the previous night, Lugo was terrific, giving up one run on six hits in seven innings.

He’s now 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA since joining the Mets.

If there was a turning point, it came in the first inning when the Nationals loaded the bases, but Lugo escaped untouched.

“Absolutely,” Collins said when asked if that was a deciding factor. “He needed to get out of it and he did. He settled down and pitched well.”

Lugo, Gsellman and Gabriel Ynoa have a combined six victories as spot starters.

KEEPING IT GOING: Yes, the Mets are hot, and yes, their schedule is seemingly easier than the rest of their competitors for the wild card.

“We need to go and have a good road trip and see where we are when we get back,” Collins said.

Here’s hoping the Mets sleep fast tonight as they have a 1 p.m., game tomorrow in Cincinnati.

Brilliant scheduling.

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Jul 12

What Went Wrong For Mets In First Half And Other Obstacles

On Monday I examined ten positives from the Mets’ first half. Today I look at ten things that either went wrong or must be overcome.

The Mets are tied with Miami six games behind Washington in the NL East. From injuries to poor performances, it was far from an idyllic first half.

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

It isn’t as if it all spiraled out of control, but numerous things must be overcome if the Mets are to make a second-half run:

1. HISTORY: The Mets have never reached the postseason in consecutive seasons, let alone the World Series. History has always been a tough nut to crack.

2. TEAM IDENTITY: The Mets are constructed in GM Sandy Alderson’s vision, which sometimes is no better than that of Mr. Magoo. Manager Terry Collins said Sunday “situational hitting” is the key things the Mets must improve on in the second half after repeatedly saying the season’s first three months they are a team built on power. Those are two incompatible concepts. The Mets won only five games in which they did not hit a homer. That must change.

3. RISP: This is linked to the first event. The Mets hit a paltry .213 with runners in scoring position with 180 strikeouts. The Mets average roughly eight runners left on base per game. Nearly 55 percent of the Mets’ scoring is attributable to home runs, and they only have a plus-20 run differential. Not good.

4. STRIKEOUTS: Alderson’s attraction to the new-wave statistics seemingly includes a disregard for striking out. It’s like he doesn’t care when a hitter strikes out, which is inexcusable. The Mets average 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which is just shy of three innings. The Mets are giving away three innings of potential offense, meaning there are no sacrifice flies; no chance of reaching on a hit, error or walk; and no productive outs. Curtis Granderson is on pace to strike out 144 times, followed by Yoenis Cespedes (142) and Neil Walker (122). Before they went on the disabled list, David Wright and Lucas Duda were also on pace to strikeout over 120 times. Michael Conforto was on pace to strikeout over 100 times before he was optioned to the minors. That’s Alderson’s offense, and it is not conducive to winning.

5. ROTATION PROBLEMS: The Mets’ young starting rotation was to carry this team, but Matt Harvey is lost for the year; Noah Syndergaard has a bone spur in his right elbow and enters the second half as a significant question; Jacob deGrom went ten starts without a victory; and Steven Matz has a bone spur in his left elbow, but pitched well in his last three starts. The Mets hoped to plug Bartolo Colon into the bullpen and bring up Zack Wheeler. However, Wheeler has had several setbacks and won’t be available until mid-August.

6. WRIGHT IS LOST: Wright is gone for the year following neck surgery and his career is in jeopardy. Wright has been saddled with injuries for several years. In addition to a lack of production, his salary has hamstrung the Mets in making moves.

7. OTHER INJURIES: In addition to Harvey and Wright, Duda is out indefinitely with a fracture in his lower back. The Mets enter the second half with Cespedes out with a strained quad with no timetable for his return. Granderson is playing with a strained calf and Conforto was playing with an injured wrist when he was demoted. Reliever Jim Henderson is on the disabled list with a strained right biceps.

8. WEAK BULLPEN: Outside of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, there’s little reliability to the Mets’ bullpen. Losing Henderson and Josh Edgin hurt, and Antonio Bastardo offered nothing. Hansel Robles has been inconsistent.

9. DIVISION RECORD: The Mets are 19-22 vs. the NL East, including 4-9 against the Washington Nationals. They routed the Phillies and Braves last year, and had a winning record against Washington. Things are a lot tougher this year.

10. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: Not only did the Mets limp into the break, but open the second half with a rugged schedule of nine games on the road, including three each in Chicago against the Cubs and three in Miami. They then come home with three against St. Louis. August brings four games with the Yankees, four at San Francisco, and three each at Detroit and St. Louis. If there isn’t a turnaround, their six games against the Nationals in September could be a moot point.