Manny Acta thinks Joe West is the fifth best umpire in baseball

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Manny Acta works for ESPN now and has a column up about technology and umpiring today. It’s Insider-only, so you can’t read it without a subscription, but most of it is spent talking about how technology has changed how players prepare for games and stuff. That’s all good. And really, if you’re going to have a very recent ex-manager writing columns, his behind-the-scenes insight on that stuff is the way to go.

Manny does lose me a bit when he gets down to ranking what he feels are the best umps in the game, though. No real quibble until he gets to number five:

The top 10

1. Jeff Nelson: He averages 0.00 smiles per game, but no one cares more and works harder than this guy. Solid all around and very consistent.

2. Jim Reynolds: Friendly, but professional with a terrific strike zone and very good on the bases.

3. Tim McClelland: He has ended up in the middle of a number of controversial calls in his carer, but he commands respect and deserves it. He still has one of the best strike zones in the game.

4. Ron Kulpa: He really cares and has a good common sense when handling stuff on the field.

5. Joe West: His “I’m here and I’m in charge attitude” makes him unpopular among players and managers, but you can’t ignore how good he is. He’s the guy you want to have behind the plate during a do-or-die game.

Whoa, Dwayne. I think West is probably the second to the last I’d rather have behind the plate before Angel Hernandez and that’s about it.

I’d be curious to see where other managers rank West. I can’t imagine he’d be anywhere near the top five. I question whether he’d make the top 30.

Bryce Harper will not be discussing his impending free agency with the media

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Bryce Harper is entering his walk year and it is widely expected that the Scott Boras client will, indeed, test out free agency next fall rather than engage in any substantial way with the Washington Nationals about a contract extension. There were some “casual conversations” between the parties in the early fall of 2017, but the Nats came away from that, quite reasonably, believing that Harper, who stands to land the largest contract in baseball history, will shop around.

For his part, Harper met the media on his first day of spring training workouts and let everyone know that, no, he does not plan to answer questions about his potential free agency every day between now and November. From MASN:

“Just want to let you guys know I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019, at all,” said Harper. “I’m focused on this year. I’m focused on winning and playing hard, like every single year. So if you guys have any questions about anything after 2018, you can call Scott and he can answer you guys.”

Makes sense. The alternative would be for Harper to give the same canned “I’m only focused on our next game” responses in front of his locker 150 times this summer, and that doesn’t serve anyone.

Thinking back to any other impending free agent’s comments about his free agency, I can’t remember a story along those lines which was worth much of anything. The genre generally consists of headlines which oversell an innocuous or offhand comment from a player as a means of guessing where his head is at with respect to his current team. I can’t think of any story in which a player, during his walk year, said something that concretely and definitively signaled his intensions in free agency one way or the other.

Reporters covering the Nationals who are curious as to how Harper feels about his current team at any given time would be better served just observing and inferring, with particular attention paid to how Harper and his teammates view the Nats’ competitive position as the season goes on, how they react to trades and stuff like that. There’s a lot of guesswork in all of that, but it sure beats trying to get a media savvy player like Harper to admit, after going 1-for-4 against the Phillies, where he plans to spend the next seven to ten years of his professional life.