Harper’s Promotion Is Not Just About Playing Baseball

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With the injury to Michael Morse, the Nationals have a huge hole in left field. Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder that has been negatively affecting his throwing and could be a recurrent problem. Rick Ankiel is a good defensive outfielder, but his offense is limited to an occasional home run and stolen base speed with lots of strikeouts and little plate discipline.

Bryce Harper’s recall from Triple-A is, in small part, baseball-related but there are other factors involved in the decision.

On the field, Harper won’t be worse than the left field combination of Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina and Mark DeRosa. He has star potential and can provide immediate impact. At worst, he’ll hold his own between the lines.

Off the field, at 19-years-old and as self-involved, bratty, catered to and obnoxious as he’s shown himself to be, is he ready for the scrutiny, attention, jealousy and outright loathing he’ll attract? Probably not, but that will take care of itself.

In spite of a league-best 14-6 record, the Nats are 12th in the National League in attendance and there is a spot in the lineup for Harper—it’s not pure shtick to fill the park. They have nothing to lose by bringing him up now. His arbitration clock is ticking, but he’s not going to be eligible for free agency under any circumstances until after 2018. So why not have a look? They can always send him down.

It’s not going to happen this season, but the Nats’ configuration in the field will possibly have Zimmerman shifting to first base to account for his shoulder and inability to throw. Current first baseman Adam LaRoche is off to a hot start, but has a team option for 2013 that’s unlikely to be picked up. Anthony Rendon is a top third base prospect and Harper can find a home somewhere in the outfield.

The Nats are one of the few organizations in baseball with depth at third base, and they can replicate what the Dodgers of the early 1970s did when they had two big league-ready third basemen (Steve Garvey and Ron Cey) and one—Garvey—who couldn’t throw the ball to first base without it being a hair-raising adventure. They moved Garvey to first base and he became an MVP, perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner. For all of Garvey’s polished good looks, crafted image and Hollywood star power, the awkward and strange-looking Cey (known as the Penguin because of his odd body type and style of running) was an excellent player in his own right and as much, if not more, of a key to the Dodgers dominance in that decade and beyond.

The Nationals have similar options.

For Harper, it’s not the actual playing of that game that will be the attention-grabber, but how opposing clubs, umpires, the media and even his own team react to his first tantrum.

As far as playing, he’ll be fine, but if the Nats suggest that it’s a purely baseball-related decision, it’s simply not the truth.

My book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, is now available in the I-Tunes store.

Check it out here.

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The Twins’ Unique Pursuits

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One of the bigger head-scratching rumors over the weekend of the MLB trading deadline revolved around the Twins and the Nationals talks to send Denard Span to the Nats.

Various stories had the Twins wanting Drew Storen; the Nats offering Tyler Clippard; the Twins demanding that Roger Bernadina and Stephen Lombardozzi be part of the deal—then things falling apart.

Who knows how close they came and how accurate the reporting was?

But the Twins desires were indicative of the unique way they run their club.

They have a plan and a template, but often appear to have their judgment clouded by insignificant aspects such as designation of “closer” and organizational connections.

You could make the argument that, financially, they’d be better off with Storen over Clippard; Clippard is arbitration-eligible after this year and due for a big raise; Storen has one year of service time. There are also the questions about former Nats manager Jim Riggleman‘s overuse of Clippard affecting him negatively going forward.

But the money isn’t as big a problem as it once was for the Twins; they can’t justifiably be called a “small market” team anymore with a 2011 payroll hovering around $113 million. They’re upper-mid-market, if anything.

I get the impression that they wanted Storen because he’s a “closer” as if the appellation of the term means something. He’s got great stuff, but has been shaky in the role and allowed 7 homers; Clippard is dominant with plenty of strikeouts and a funky, over-the-top motion that is sneaky fast and unusual for hitters to have to face. Clippard gives up his share of homers too, but all things being equal, I’d rather have Clippard.

Why they wound demand Bernadina is a mystery. But Lombardozzi is the son of former Twins infielder Steve Lombardozzi who was a part of the 1987 championship team. The legacy aspect can’t be ignored if a player who was a 19th round draft pick is so fervently desired by a club with family ties. The younger Lombardozzi has put up solid minor league numbers, but is he someone to hold it up on either side?

Ancillary issues are at play with these talks. Span is signed inexpensively through 2015, but was just activated from the disabled list after a concussion. Could the continued problems with post-concussion syndrome suffered by Justin Morneau have influenced the Twins to try to get something for Span now before any after effects show themselves? Ben Revere is younger and cheaper and can catch the ball in center field.

The way the Twins run games under Ron Gardenhire makes it imperative that they have a deep bullpen; this was why they made the trade for Matt Capps last year surrendering top catching prospect Wilson Ramos; and why they would presumably want Storen.

The trade was never completed and I have to give credit to the Twins for holding true to their beliefs.

That said, maybe those beliefs need some tweaking because they’re causing them to do things which make little sense in theory and probably won’t be smart in practice either.

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