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While Mets celebrate Cespedes, Nats deal with perception issues


While Mets celebrate Cespedes, Nats deal with perception issues

The New York Mets' offseason is looking a whole lot better after the retention of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who turned down the Nationals - among others - to re-sign for a three-year deal. The contract was finalized on Tuesday and, naturally, the Mets are excited about it.

Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, in fact, believes Cespedes' decision speaks to the bigger picture of how the Mets are viewed as a franchise. The Mets won the NL East and reached the World Series in 2015, but had been seen as cheap and not desirable for free agents in recent years.

"We're a destination now where players want to be," Wilpon told the Associated Press.

General manager Sandy Alderson also chimed in with positive remarks about his team.

"Until we signed Yoenis, there wasn't a lot of sizzle in what we did over the offseason," he said. "It's a clear acknowledgment that the present is important to us."

This is in contrast, some would point out, to how the Nationals are being viewed this winter, as Cespedes wasn't the only free agent to turn them down. They offered more money to both Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist before they signed with the Chicago Cubs. And they were close with Darren O'Day until he re-signed with Baltimore.

Some say these rejections have created a perception issue for the Nationals, that players are sending a message by not signing in Washington.

There are differences, though, in each case.

Heyward may be the easiest one to fault them for. The Nats offered Heyward close to $200 million before he chose Chicago for less money. The Cubs, however, are a better team right now and maybe Heyward valued the chance to win a World Series over all else. He still got paid plenty, by the way.

Zobrist’s selection of Chicago makes sense: He is reuniting with former manager Joe Maddon and that relationship should not be discounted. O'Day was given a better deal with the Orioles and also has familiarity there, having pitched in Baltimore for the last four seasons.

In Cespedes' case, he re-signed with a team that gave him an attractive opt-out clause after one year. Cespedes could opt out and test free agency after making $27.5 million in 2016. He could then become the top free agent in an otherwise thin class of outfielders.

The Nationals saw a potential bargain in Cespedes that was helped by the unusually deep crop of outfielders this winter. With Heyward and Justin Upton, Cespedes had to wait until the market played out. It developed slowly and the Nats saw an opportunity to possibly get a player at a cheaper price than most years would offer. It didn't work out and fans were not pleased. But they should be fine in the outfield with Jayson Werth, Ben Revere, Michael Taylor and Bryce Harper already in store.

The harder storyline to pin down in all of this is the talk of dissension in the Nationals clubhouse. It was first brought to light by The Washington Post through numerous stories and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports shared more details this week in an interview with MLB Network. 

The Nationals not only lost on the field last season, they embarrassed themselves with the whole Harper-Jonathan Papelbon fiasco and the anonymous backstabbing that went on through various media reports. They fell way short of expectations and somehow took the crown of most dysfunctional team in town away from the Redskins, which is actually kind of impressive if you think about it.

The Nats' reputation has taken several hits, but it's important to remember that the offseason is still weeks away from being over.

How will they be perceived if they trade Papelbon and make another key addition? The Nationals have been known to make late-winter splashes under GM Mike Rizzo. What if they add another quality starting pitcher?

The new coaching staff could make a difference, as well. Beyond Dusty Baker's experience and great reputation dealing with players, they have some big personalities now on their coaching staff. Spend a few minutes with pitching coach Mike Maddux or bench coach Chris Speier, and it's clear the Nats are going to keep it loose in 2016.

Good clubhouse chemistry is difficult to define. Rizzo, for example, has struggled with it despite being one of the more accomplished talent evaluators in baseball.

Is it important to have big, joking personalities to have success in baseball? The Giants have won three World Series in the last six years and their best players, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, are as stoic as it gets.

It's just one man's take, but a former Nats player remarked last season while his new team was in town - and the Nationals were chasing the Mets - that Mark DeRosa's presence was missed, that they could use somebody similar. DeRosa played with the Nats in 2012 and hit .188 at the age of 37, but he often lightened the mood with jokes and impromptu karaoke sets in the Nats' clubhouse.

Only time will tell the lessons Rizzo and the Nationals pulled from 2015, whether they learned from what went wrong and if they will change anything because of it. But in the short-term, remember that this offseason is not over.

There is still time to make changes, and they can be made even after spring training begins. Few teams know how to get positive reviews heading into a season like the Nationals. It's usually what they do at the end of the season that proves otherwise.

[RELATED: Nats sign veteran starter, former All-Star Bronson Arroyo]

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The sound of Bryce Harper's first spring training HR is beautiful


The sound of Bryce Harper's first spring training HR is beautiful

It's that wonderful time of year again — when baseball teams flock to warmer climates for spring training and the regular season is practically around the corner — and Bryce Harper is already killing it.

It took the Washington Nationals a few games to brush away their offseason cobwebs and get back into gear, but since the beginning of March, they're riding a five-game win streak as of Sunday the 4th.

They are 6-4-1 in spring training going into Monday's matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Since Thursday, the Nats have taken down — in order — the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, defending World Series champion Houston Astros, the Detroit Tigers and the Mets again. Sunday's 6-2 win against the Tigers was in large part thanks to Harper's bat, as the star of the team drilled his first home run of spring training. 


Turn up the volume for this one because the sound of Harper's contact with the ball is just beautiful — and perhaps enough to get you pumped for the March 29 opener.

Harper blew this ball away in the bottom of the third for a two-run homer with Howie Kendrick on base. He also had a single in the fourth and finished the game with three RBI.

Gio Gonzalez was the winning pitcher for the Nats. 


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Per usual, Max Scherzer strikes out Tim Tebow on three pitches


Per usual, Max Scherzer strikes out Tim Tebow on three pitches

We are fortunate enough to live in a world where we can watch a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (attempt to) hit against a three-time Cy Young pitcher in a Major League Baseball preseason game.

Max Scherzer took less than a minute to strike out Tim Tebow, who was batting cleanup for the Mets in a spring training game Friday. You can watch the whole at-bat here:

It looks like Tebow and Scherzer are starting to develop a pattern - last year’s matchup between the two went down the exact same way.

Tebow was able to redeem himself later in the game with his first hit of the year against Nats prospect Erick Fedde. He will likely begin the season with the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies, but Mets GM Sandy Alderson said he believes Tebow will eventually see some at-bats in the Majors.