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Jose Altuve dodges scandal questions but congratulates Nationals on World Series title

Jose Altuve dodges scandal questions but congratulates Nationals on World Series title

Jose Altuve met with the media at the Astros’ annual winter FanFest event over the weekend, the first time he faced reporters since details of Houston’s sign-stealing scheme used in 2017 came to light.

The former AL MVP congratulated the Nationals on beating the Astros in the World Series last October, saying “they deserved it” after topping Houston in seven games.

But while he didn’t shy away from talking about the 2019 World Series, Altuve declined to comment on the 2017 championship for which the Astros were found guilty by MLB of using electronic devices to gain an edge in.

Manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow were suspended for a year before being fired by the Astros last week. Altuve and the other players who were on the Astros’ roster that season were exempt from any punishment handed down by the commissioner’s office.

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Bryce Harper felt he was 'able to just be Bryce' in his first year with Phillies

Bryce Harper felt he was 'able to just be Bryce' in his first year with Phillies

In Bryce Harper’s first season in Philadelphia, the Phillies jumped out to a 33-22 start before surrendering hold of the NL East lead to the Atlanta Braves in June and eventually falling out of the playoff race by the end of September. It was the Phillies’ best season since entering their lengthy rebuild in 2012 but still fell well short of their preseason expectations.

Despite the team’s shortcomings, Harper arrived at the Phillies’ spring training complex in Clearwater, Florida, on Sunday with nothing but good things to say about his club.

“I feel like I was able to just be Bryce,” Harper told reporters during his first media scrum. “It’s funny, in the offseason, all my buddies were like, ‘How’d you like Philly?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I loved it. Like, it was unbelievable.’ So I think people might look at me and go, ‘Yeah, right, you’re crazy.’ But no, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed the people.

“That blue-collar feel, that blue-collar mentality. They want you to work hard, they hold you accountable and that made me a better player. It made me want to work hard in the outfield. It made me want to work hard as a hitter. It made me want to play every single day.”

Harper’s defensive numbers took a steep dive in 2018, his final season in Washington. Those metrics may have been attributed to Harper playing it safe in the outfield and going for fewer big plays in order to stay healthy ahead of free agency. After accruing -16 defensive runs saved in right field (a career low) with the Nationals in 2018, he picked up nine DRS in right last year (a career best).

His offensive numbers in 2019 would’ve been considered strong by most players’ standards, but for Harper they probably weren’t as high as the Phillies were hoping to get for what they’re paying. He hit 35 home runs with a career-high 114 RBIs but also struck out (178) more than he ever had in a season and failed to make the All-Star team for the first time since 2014.

Were his comments a shot at his former fan base? Only Harper really knows that. He did congratulate his former teammates on winning the World Series without him, though.

“I watched through the whole series and I never have before,” Harper said, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. “I’m so happy for those guys over there. I played there for eight years and enjoyed my time with the players, but I’m happy to turn the page and be here in Philly.”

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Yan Gomes was briefly a free agent but didn't want to 'restart' with a whole new team

Yan Gomes was briefly a free agent but didn't want to 'restart' with a whole new team

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There was a brief time last offseason when Yan Gomes was a free agent. This was new. He had just won the World Series, everything was fantastic, a $9 million team option existed on his contract, then he was unemployed. Briefly. 

“Right out of the get-go, you start the offseason kind of becoming a free agent,” Gomes told NBC Sports Washington. “There wasn’t like a doubt that I wanted to come back. I made it known to them. We started having conversations. It didn’t start for a few weeks, almost a month. It was my first time being in free agency like that. I was [expletive] stressed out. But, once we started having our conversations it happened really fast. It was literally within three days and they offered and I said, 'Yeah.'”

Gomes could have been insulted by the team declining his option. He could have taken the brief time he was a free agent to really push another team. Instead, he told Washington he wanted to return, had shallow conversations with other teams, then signed as soon as he could. So, why? 

“Comfort level for sure,” Gomes said. “Knowing this team and really loving the guys and everything here. But it became, really, a family decision of almost wanting to stay on the East Coast. We live in Tennessee and the kids are going to school, and I would have thought of going somewhere out West  -- which, you know, after two years we’ll see how that goes -- but we wanted to stay closer, and D.C. being perfect, I didn’t want to do the whole restart, whole new team. I think it really just came down to the comfort level that I had here. The friendships that we built so quickly, I just kind of wanted to stay around.”

Gomes’ first season in Washington went poorly. His offense dipped, his work behind the plate resulted in a career high in passed balls and wild pitches (if the catcher blocks these, the number goes down). His caught-stealing percentage was also below his career average.

However, his offense picked up in September, which coincided with Kurt Suzuki’s elbow injury and more playing time. Gomes made 21 starts and produced an .850 OPS. His OPS for the season was just .704.

Gomes made 358 plate appearances during the regular season. Suzuki made 309. Their pitcher-pairings were clear: Suzuki caught Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Aníbal Sánchez. Gomes caught Patrick Corbin and the rotating cast of fifth starters. In spring training, Suzuki will be over with Corbin more often in case he needs to handle the left-hander during the regular season. Davey Martinez expects their playing-time share to be similar to last year no matter who they are catching.

“I like to think we could do the same thing, but we’ve got to be very careful,” Martinez said. “I know Suzuki looks good and ready to go, but we have to be very conscious of his injuries last year. I know Yan could catch every day. We’ll see how spring training goes. I definitely would like to keep it the same.”

Which is also what Gomes wanted. More of the same, so he's back in West Palm Beach for two more years.

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