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.

Marlins still searching for starting pitching depth

Aaron Harang
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Marlins would like to add “another pitcher or two” before pitchers and catchers report to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes. Among starting pitchers available, Kyle Lohse, Aaron Harang, and Alfredo Simon are candidates for the Marlins, but they may hold out for the possibility of inking a major league contract. Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee are other potential candidates, per Frisaro.

This offseason, the Marlins signed Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year, $80 million deal and Edwin Jackson for the major league minimum. The back of the rotation, though, is still a question mark as Jarred Cosart, Adam Conley, and Justin Nicolino will compete with Jackson for two spots. David Phelps is dealing with an elbow injury and may or not be ready by Opening Day, but he could function in a swingman capacity as well.

Shocker: Bruce Bochy tabs Madison Bumgarner to start Opening Day

Madison Bumgarner
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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You might want to sit down for this news. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has tabbed ace Madison Bumgarner to start on Opening Day in Milwaukee against the Brewers, CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic reports. Shocking, I know.

The Giants had a busy offseason, adding Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to the starting rotation, but neither had a shot at getting the Opening Day nod considering what Bumgarner has done for the Giants over the last five seasons.

Since the start of the 2011 season, the 26-year-old lefty compiled a 3.05 ERA with 1,034 strikeouts and 239 walks across 1,050 innings. Among starters who logged at least 800 innings in that span of time, only Clayton Kershaw, Cueto, Zack Greinke, David Price, and Felix Hernandez have posted lower ERAs.  And Bumgarner is the only one among them with a championship ring. In fact, he has three.

Tony Clark is not happy so many players remain unsigned

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, JAN. 18-19 - This Jan. 15, 2014 photo showing new baseball union head Tony Clark during an interview at the organization's headquarters, in New York. Clark has big shoes to fill _ and not just as Michael Weiner's replacement as head of the baseball players' union. Moving from Arizona to New Jersey, the former big league All-Star also needed to find size 15 snowshoes.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew
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We’re almost halfway through February. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training soon. And yet, there are more than a handful of solid free agents that remain unsigned. Among them: Yovani Gallardo, Ian Desmond, and Dexter Fowler. All three have draft pick compensation tied to them, as each rejected a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from his respective former team. That, undoubtedly, is a reason why they haven’t inked a contract yet.

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark is unhappy about this reality and expects to discuss potential changes when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated. The current CBA expires after the 2016 season. Per the Associated Press, Clark said last week, “I think it’s disappointing when there are as many talented players still without a home. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to be in a world where very talented players are at home for whatever reason they are there. It will likely be a part of the conversation in bargaining.”

Clark also mentioned, among other things, the possibility of a draft lottery, which would take away the incentive for teams to “tank”, or lose on purpose. The Astros and Phillies have notably done this in recent years, finishing with baseball’s worst record and thus netting the #1 overall draft pick.

These are, however, simply two items of many that will be discussed during the upcoming offseason. It will be interesting to see what solutions are eventually put in place.

Michael Pineda hopes to reach 200-inning mark for first time

New York Yankees' Michael Pineda delivers a pitch during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger
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It was reported on Friday that Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka isn’t sure if he’ll be ready for Opening Day as he makes his way back from arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. His health will be crucial to the Yankees’ chances this season, but the same goes for rotation-mate Michael Pineda, who hopes that this is the year he’ll be able to take on the workload of a frontline starter.

Pineda was on pace for a career-high in innings last season, but he landed on the disabled list in late July with a right flexor forearm muscle strain and missed a month. He struggled upon his return and ended up with 160 2/3 innings, so he fell short of his career-high of 171 innings as a rookie with the Mariners way back in 2011. Now going into his age-27 season, Pineda told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com that his goal for 2016 is to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career.

“For me, this year, I’m coming here early to be strong and working hard to pitch 200 innings this year,” Pineda said at the club’s Minor League complex. “I want to throw 200 innings this year. This is my goal, and help my team.”

Pineda had a mediocre 4.37 ERA (90 ERA+) last season despite impressive peripherals with 8.7 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9. Among pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched, only Bartolo Colon of the Mets had a lower walk percentage. Pineda managed to increase his ground ball rate to 48.2 percent and also saw an uptick in velocity from 2014, so there’s reason to believe in improvement if he can stay healthy.