Friday, April 27, 2012

The Great Mistake...

"Braves On the Warpath..."
wait, oh never mind
Word has come out that Bryce Harper, the nineteen year old prospect of the Washington Nationals, is going to be called up to the big club tomorrow to replace Ryan Zimmerman, who was placed on the disabled list (DL) for his recurring shoulder issues.

It is a mistake for them to do so.

I speak not as the fan of a rival team (although I am), but as a baseball fan and a general observer of all things regarding that wonderful sport.  It is the wrong personnel decision to make on two levels...

1) He does not have enough seasoning. Case in point, he is hitting .250 with an OPS of .708 in twenty games at the Triple-A level.  He has played under sixty games in levels above Single-A ball.  If he struggling like that in Triple-A, Major League pitching is going to eat him alive. Likewise, it is my understanding that he is going to play left field, a position that he has very little experience playing.

2) This starts his service clock.  The whole point about having young players is about keeping them under team control for as long as possible.  Most fans don't know the intricacies of the arbitration system, but Harper being brought up now means that he could potentially be a free agent by the end of 2017, rather than 2018.  Likewise, if he does eventually perform well, this moves up the time in which the team is going to have to pay him a much larger amount of money earlier than they would have liked.

Player development is a long process; no one starts at the top.  Players with a lot more impressive résumés at the minor league level were held off for a while longer - like Ryan Braun and Ryan Howard.  They were both brought up in the summer time after they had an opportunity to work out any slumps and kinks in their games.  The Orioles have a fine young infielder, Manny Machado, who is diligently working his way up through the ranks, but that organization is doing it the right way by developing him over time (which, in my opinion, is one of the few things the Orioles have done right over the past fifteen years, but I digress).

All of this leads to two theories about why the Nats are racing Harper up to the big club.  The first is Dustin's:

1) Publicity stunt

I agree with this somewhat, considering that there is no logical reason to bring him up on April 28 when the team already is nine games above .500 and is going to piss off some veterans who have fought for playing time.  The Phillies come to town next weekend, and this could very well be a simple calculated move to make the fan base excited, or as Dustin said to me: "to stay relevant when the Caps and Skins are taking the news away."


2) Panic

The one flaw the Nats have had is their offense, and Harper has a reputation for being a Big Bat™.  Perhaps the management feels the team needs a spark, even if it is a found in a guy who is hitting just .250 against, ahem, Triple-A pitching.  But this theory doesn't really hold up, since it is...April 27!  Look at me, trying to make excuses as to why the Nationals are shooting themselves in the foot when they really don't have to.

Actually, it's looking more likely that it is a stunt of some sort, and next Friday, I may get to see him in person at Nationals Park when the Phillies are in town.  

Of course, he could come in and hit 25 homers this year and win the R.O.Y. award, but let's just say that if I were a betting man, I wouldn't even put a penny on that.  Ryan Howard hit 46 home runs in the minors in the season prior to his arrival in Philadelphia, and was still blocked until Jim Thome got hurt.  

My advice to Nats fans - don't buy the hype, and try to temper expectations.  I say this as a fellow baseball fan more than anything else.  He is going to struggle.  Don't blame him, though.  
Blame the Nationals' management.

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