Harper’s Promotion Is Not Just About Playing Baseball

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

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 Pirates, Andrew McCutchen and the Crocodile Arm Snap

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

With the Pirates, there’s always been a reluctance to believe that they’re doing something smart without doing something foolish immediately thereafter.

It’s like feeding a crocodile—arm extended, cringing, hoping that the only thing taken is the food and not the arm up to the elbow.

In retrospect the Pirates maneuvers of perpetual housecleanings and bargain basement payrolls didn’t turn out as badly as they looked upon their completion. Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouthAdam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Octavio Dotel and Freddy Sanchez were all dealt away in recent years. Most didn’t perform up to expectations with their new clubs and the Pirates got some usable pieces for them after savage critiques in their immediate aftermath.

The deals may not have worked out as hoped for the Pirates and they probably could’ve gotten more for than they did for some of the above-listed players, but apart from Bay, most were total disappointments in their new venues in one way or another.

Of course there are the things like non-tendering Matt Capps and declining the option on Paul Maholm, but potholes of idiocy will continue to exist no matter how desperately they’re patched over.

From those trades, they have James McDonald, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and a couple of minor leaguers that might eventually be of use.

Now the Pirates have signed star center fielder Andrew McCutchen to a 6-year, $51.5 million contract to buy out his arbitration years and first two seasons of free agency—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

After the Pirates had implied that they’d be willing to listen to offers on McCutchen, the crocodile-cringe became more pronounced.

“Uh oh, the Pirates are about to do something stupid.”

The entire “we’ll listen on anyone including McCutchen” rhetoric was like something out of The Onion. “You can call and we’ll listen. Then we’ll laugh and tell you to take a hike.”

The “stupid” was ever-present, but for now it’s gone.

McCutchen is a foundational star at a hard-to-fill position and only getting better at age 25. He’s exactly the type of player a club either spends their money to keep or gives up the majority of their farm system to get.

With him onboard, the Pirates are turning their attention to signing Pittsburgh native and second baseman Neil Walker to a contract extension.

With the young stars in the fold for the long-term; Clint Hurdle—a manager who doesn’t take crap or “we’re the Pirates” as an excuse for losing; and an improved farm system, the Pirates are capable—you’re reading it here first—of a .500 season in 2012 and finishing as high as third place in their division.

Keeping McCutchen is a great decision and indicative that the Pirates’ front office is no longer content to be the big league talent mill for the bullies and are looking to follow the lead of clubs like the Rays who develop and try to win simultaneously.

The Pirates have an advantage the Rays don’t: a beautiful, fan friendly ballpark.

Believe it or not, the Pirates are on the way to getting much, much better.

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Fantasy Man

Fantasy/Roto

Regarding the title, I mean that in all possible connotations in relation to me.

I don’t play fantasy sports. I don’t get it. People tell me they make money at it, but I prefer watching and analyzing the game for the actual play, strategy and drama; not to interpret the numbers so I can make my own lineups, pitching staffs and whatevers.

Whether or not I’d be any good at it if I did play is hard to determine. I don’t really know the rules; apparently they vary from league to league with certain stats more important than others among many other factors.

With that in mind, here’s a non-partisan list of names who might help you in your baseball fantasy leagues.

And no, I’m not naming Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, C.C. Sabathia or any of the in-demand players who everyone knows are going to put up numbers.

I’m digging through the muck.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

It’s not a good sign when the former teammates on the club that traded you—the Braves—stood up and applauded when your replacement Alex Gonzalez walked through the clubhouse doors.

No, Escobar wasn’t popular in the Braves no-nonsense clubhouse and Bobby Cox wanted to murder him; but his talent is unmistakable. He played reasonably well after joining the Blue Jays, but nowhere close to what he was in 2009 when he looked to be an emerging star.

Perhaps the presence of Jose Bautista mentoring him will have a positive affect.

Kyle Farnsworth, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

You read that right.

It may sound insane, but think about it.

He’s always racked up the strikeouts; he still throws very, very hard; the Rays don’t have a defined closer and a history of rehabilitating failed talents like Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit.

Because of the absence of an ironclad “known” closer, there’s a chance that Farnsworth will get a chance to rack up some saves.

Matt Thornton, LHP—Chicago White Sox

He throws gas; like the Rays, the White Sox don’t have a defined closer and Thornton’s a likely candidate. The White Sox don’t have a fear of trying a youngster like Chris Sale in the role, but Thornton, now, is the better option and he handles both lefties and righties.

Billy Butler, 1B/DH—Kansas City Royals

His full name is “Billy Ray Butler”; can he sing?

He doesn’t need to. At least until after his career’s over and he decides to write and record a song like Bobby Murcer did with his “Skoal Dippin’ Man”. Somehow I doubt that would play well today in our politically correct society.

Butler has gotten better every single season he’s been in the big leagues, racks up the doubles, has 15-20 homer power, hits over .300 and gets on base.

The right-handed Butler was far better hitter vs righties than lefties, but that was probably a freak thing for one year and all the more reason he’s going to have a massive season in 2011.

Dallas Braden, LHP—Oakland Athletics

The team behind him is better both offensively and defensively. Just make sure you stay off his mound and remember the way they roll in the 209.

Joel Pineiro, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

I’m going there again.

Much was made of how I told people how Pineiro’s success with the Cardinals was going to translate to the American League and the Angels. The thought was that switching leagues and being away from the protective nuzzle of Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa would revert Pineiro to the pitcher he was late in his time with the Mariners and brief days with the Red Sox.

It was nonsense.

Surface-wise, the numbers back up that claim. In truth, Pineiro’s ERA was blown up by starts in which he got blasted; before an oblique injury sabotaged him, he was on his way to a very solid season. When his sinker’s not sinking, he gets rocked; but if his time with Duncan taught him anything, it’s how to battle his way through when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

He’s a free agent at the end of the year too, which should inspire a healthy, productive season; you just have to be careful which teams you use him against. (That’s how Roto works, right?)

Raul Ibanez, LF—Philadelphia Phillies

Amid all the talk that Ibanez was “done”, it was conveniently missed that for a player who’s “done”, he had 58 extra base hits!

Assisted by a better Jimmy Rollins and healthier supporting cast, he’ll give you your .800 OPS.

Eric Hinske, INF/OF—Atlanta Braves

He might have to play more than is expected. The Braves are going with a rookie first baseman, Freddie Freeman; don’t know whether Chipper Jones will be able to come back and it’s certain he’ll need frequent rest days; they don’t have competent big league backups besides Hinske. When he’s given a chance to play regularly, he always hits the ball out of the park.

Javier Vazquez, RHP—Florida Marlins

Back in the National League and freed from his prison Pinstripes, Vazquez is still young enough that a big year will get him a substantial payday. In a world where Carl Pavano was in demand after everything he pulled, Vazquez will want to have a similar renaissance. And his stuff is far better than Pavano’s.

Jonathon Niese, LHP—New York Mets

With Johan Santana out until the summer and the sudden rise of R.A. Dickey still in doubt, the Mets will need to lean heavily on Niese. Mike Francesa’s expert scouting report that he’s not all that impressed with Niese aside, I am impressed with Niese in stuff and competitiveness.

Mike Morse, OF/1B—Washington Nationals

With the Nationals lack of offense, I have a feeling we’re going to see Jayson Werth playing a lot of center field and Morse in right. Morse is a huge man (6’5″, 230) and had 15 homers in 293 plate appearances last season in his first legitimate chance to play semi-regularly. The Nationals haven’t shown the intelligence with Morse-type players as they repeatedly underestimated the value of Josh Willingham, but they might not have a choice in 2011.

Lance Berkman, RF—St. Louis Cardinals

He’ll be an adventure in right field, but in the Cardinals lineup with Pujols and Matt Holliday, plus looking at another chance at free agency a year from now, he’s going to hit.

Joel Hanrahan, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

He’ll get the chance to close and throws bullets. Naturally, being a Pirate, it begs the question as to how many save opportunities he’s going to get, but he strikes out a lot of hitters (100 in 69 innings last season).

Luke Gregerson, RHP—San Diego Padres

I said this a year ago and those who got credit for “holds” thanked me. If the Padres fall from contention this year, Heath Bell is going to get traded and Gregerson will presumably take over as the closer and you’ll get your saves.

Brad Hawpe, 1B/OF—San Diego Padres

He was horrible last year with both the Rockies and Rays, but he consistently batted over .280 with a .380 on base and 20+ homers in the three seasons prior to 2010.

Kenley Jansen, RHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

Barely a year removed from being a minor league catcher with no future in the big leagues, the 6’6″, 220 pound Jansen made it to the big leagues and was lights out with a blazing and moving fastball. Hitters looked frightened when he was on the mound and he’s going to be a key to the Dodgers season.

Brandon Allen, 1B—Arizona Diamondbacks

Allen has put up power/on base numbers at every level in the minors; the Diamondbacks are going to be terrible and have Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady as the first basemen ahead of Allen.

By May, it’s not going to make sense for Allen to be sitting on the bench in the majors or playing in the minors; the Diamondbacks should just play him every day and see what they have.

Tomorrow I’ll have a look at players from whom you should run like infected zombies from 28 Days Later for fear that they infect you with their dreaded disease!!