The Week Ahead: Countdown to deadline for Harper, Nats

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As with all of the players selected in the 2010 draft, No. 1 overall selection Bryce Harper has until midnight ET on Monday night to sign a deal.

If he doesn’t reach an agreement with the Washington Nationals, Harper could return to college or sign somewhere else, such as an independent league. This seems unlikely, since Harper skipped his final two years of high school so he could become draft-eligible early. But I guess you can’t rule anything out.

Harper is only one of many players facing the deadline — according to Baseball America only 15 of the 32 first-round picks have signed – but he’s certainly the biggest name.

In an odd twist on Sunday, Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg had some blunt words for Harper, saying “if he doesn’t want to play here, then we don’t want him here.”

This is interesting on a number of levels. As you probably know, Strasburg was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft and he waited until seconds before the deadline to agree to a contract. Also, Strasburg shares the same agent as Harper, Scott Boras, so he surely has been in enough strategy sessions to know that this is how Boras operates.

Perhaps Strasburg forgot. Or maybe he is just toeing the company line for some reason. Then again, maybe he just doesn’t want Harper to surpass his record $15.1 rookie contract. Either way, there should be plenty of drama for Nats fans as the deadline nears on Monday night.

Meanwhile, as you ponder whether the 17-year-old Harper is worth all the trouble, you should remember that he is universally regarded as a special talent on the field. You should also remember that there have been questions about his makeup, such as this passage from Baseball Prospectus:

One scout called him among the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. “He’s just a bad, bad guy,” said one front-office official. “He’s basically the anti-Joe Mauer.”

Yikes!

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Rangers at Rays, Aug. 16-18:
This could be a preview of what could be a very delicious playoff series. Cliff Lee vs. David Price? Matt Garza vs. Tommy Hunter? What’s not to like?

White Sox at Twins, Aug. 17-19: The Twins took two of three when these teams hooked up last week in Minnesota, now the White Sox have a chance to fight back. Chicago enters the week just three games back in the AL Central.

Giants at Phillies, Aug. 17-19: No guarantees from any Giants players after dropping two of three to the Padres over the weekend. Now they have to face the Phillies, who they are battling for the wild card lead.

Giants at Cardinals, Aug. 20-22: It’s a tough week for San Francisco, as after Philly the Giants travel to St. Louis. They cap the brutal stretch with a home series against the Reds next week.

Reds at Dodgers, Aug. 20-22: Cincinnati rebounded from their pummeling at the hands of the Cardinals with a sweep of the Marlins to retake the NL Central lead. Now a road trip to Arizona and Los Angeles this week, where they can just about put the Dodgers out of commission.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Giants at Phillies (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Rockies at Dodgers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Braves at Cubs (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rangers at Orioles (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Angels at Twins (FOX)
Sunday, 2 p.m.: Giants at Cardinals (TBS)
Sunday, 8:10 p.m.: Angels at Twins (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: