Bryce Harper Getty

Boswell: “Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player”

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You probably saw that Bryce Harper was benched on Saturday after he didn’t run out a ground ball (it was hit back to the pitcher). Matt Williams called it a lack of “hustle” and made a point to call him out publicly after the game. We already covered this one for the most part, but for what it’s worth — and keeping in mind this is a nitpick — I think “hustle” isn’t exactly the issue here. At least not as we usually think of it.

Generally speaking, Harper is nothing if not hustle (the Nats’ program the very day of that game is evidence of that). Indeed, until Saturday the biggest talking point about Harper was whether he hustled too much and whether he should slow down some in an effort to not tax his body. The play on Saturday, I feel, was less about physical effort than it was about (a) quitting mentally; and (b) Williams sending a message to his team in general, even if Harper was the pretext for it. If Harper slowly jogged all the way to first I’m guessing Williams doesn’t bench him, even if that’s not exactly “hustle” as usually defined. It’s more about just giving up on the play. If the Nats had been playing better baseball lately, I’m guessing Williams doesn’t react the way he did.

That’s not a major point, but feel like “hustle” or the lack thereof has become a proxy for laziness and that so often the “hustle” conversation inspires false hustle and needless hustle in ways that are unnecessary. Williams was trying to make Harper and the Nats in general mentally sharper. To not quit or lose focus. He wasn’t — I hope anyway — trying to instill a culture where guys sprint after ball four and in from the bullpen like Pete Rose or something. For that reason he was fine to bench Harper, even if I take issue with him (a) calling him out publicly like he did, which seems unprofessional to me; and (b) couching it in terms of hustle which is such an amorphous and malleable word in sports these days. One which leads to a lot of dumb and unproductive inferences and incentives.

Anyway, with that aside, let’s look at something less nuanced and far, far dumber. It’s Tom Boswell of the Washington Post going off on Harper about this in his latest column. After several paragraphs of ripping Harper and lauding Matt Williams for sending Harper a message, Boswell uncorks this:

Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

This is what I’m talking about. You put a guy in the crosshairs like Williams did by calling him out in a postgame presser and you declare this a conversation about hustle, you give people license to take their knives out and go insanely over the top because, hey, not hustling is, like, the WORST THING YOU CAN DO and arglebarglebagleblah!

Boswell famously created a stat called Total Average one time. It has been widely debunked as a useful analytical tool and it’s actually pretty misleading. So, perhaps it is not so shocking to see him totally whiffing on a point of analysis here. But hey, if he can get anyone inside baseball to agree that Harper is some mediocre player because of a mental lapse or that they’d rather have Anthony Rendon than Bryce Harper now, five years from now or 20 years from now I suppose I’ll moderate my stance.

The names and teams to watch between now and Monday’s trade deadline

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 3: Jonathan Lucroy #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks to the dugout during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on July 3, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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We already saw a big deal go down today, with the Padres trading Andrew Cashner to the Marlins. Between now and Monday afternoon, however, there will be many, many more. Keeping track of them is not always easy, but we can contain the chaos a little bit by ticking off the big names with the most heat around them.

Here, as of this morning, are the most significant players with rumors attached:

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

Linked to: Mets, Red Sox, Indians and Rangers
Likelihood of being traded: Seems highly likely. We’ve seen no reports saying the Brewers truly plan on keeping him.
Most likely destination: Beats us, though the Red Sox have the most to trade from and the GM with the history of the boldest moves. The Indians may be the most desperate for catching, however.

Chris Sale, White Sox

Linked to: Dodgers, Yankees and Braves. Rangers could certainly use him. Obviously, tons of teams would love to have him.
Likelihood of being traded: Less than 50-50, but certainly not zero. Sale’s recent uniform shredding antics and his clashes with the front office are frequently cited, but the real calculus here is whether the White Sox honestly think they can contend while Sale is still under team control (he has club options which keep in Chicago through 2019). Even if he was a model citizen, there are just as many good arguments for dealing him as there are for keeping him, mostly surrounding his undeniable status as one of the game’s top starters and his team-friendly deal for that ace performance. That combination equals a heavy package of prospects in return. If we ran the Sox we’d probably deal him, with the recent controversies as a cover for what is really an admission that, nope, we’re just not a good enough team to compete and, yep, we could get a king’s ransom for him.
Most likely destination: The Dodgers make all kinds of sense. They have young pitching which can help the White Sox win later and can deal it to get Sale who can help them win now.

Andrew Miller, Yankees

Linked to: Rangers, Nationals and Indians, all of whom need bullpen help.
Likelihood of being traded: Low to moderate. He’s under team control through next year and The Yankees like to talk about they don’t rebuild, they just reload. After seeing the haul they got for a rental of Arolids Chapman, however, it may be hard to say no to the sort of package a club may offer for Miller.
Most likely destination: The Nationals have had several scares late in games lately. If they can get over their tendency to hoard prospects rather than truly go for it, they could probably get a deal done.

Jay Bruce, Reds

Linked to: Mariners more than anyone. Indians and Rangers have been mentioned.
Likelihood of being traded:  Almost certain. The Reds are gonna be bad for a while and the often uneven Bruce is enjoying his best year. Time to strike while the iron is hot.
Most likely destination: The rumors about Bruce fall into two categories: legitimate stuff about the Mariners’ interest and general noise which sounds a lot like the Reds trying to pretend there are more teams interested in Bruce than there really are in order to get the Mariners to raise their price. Anything can happen, of course, and one should not bluff unless one is willing to carry through with what one is threatening, but I still think Bruce is a Mariner by Monday evening.

Chris Archer, Rays

Linked to: Dodgers, but no one else super seriously.
Likelihood of being traded:  Seems low. The Rays will certainly entertain offers, but Archer’s value is lower than expected during this subpar year for him and he’s under team control for a really long time. If you overwhelm the Rays they’ll deal him, but it will take a big, big offer.
Most likely destination: We think it’s more likely that he’s still a Ray next week, but if he goes anyplace it’ll likely be Los Angeles if they cannot pry Sale loose from the White Sox.

Wade Davis, Royals

Linked to: Dodgers
Likelihood of being traded:  Less than 50% in our view. The Royals may have been intrigued by the Chapman deal with the Cubs, but they are rumored to want to package Davis with teammate Ian Kennedy in a salary dump situation, suggesting that they’re less interested in maximizing the return for Davis than they are in dumping Kennedy’s salary. It’s hard to see why someone like the Dodgers, who are apparently enamored with Davis, would want to do that. It suggests that the Royals are just sort of messin’ around.
Most likely destination: He’ll probably still be a Royal unless the Dodgers make a strong take-it-or-leave-it offer for a standalone Davis deal.

Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies

Linked to: No one specifically yet, but obviously tons of teams want starting pitching. The Rangers, Orioles and maybe the Giants are all teams which have been mentioned in passing.
Likelihood of being traded:  50/50, driven by the Phillies allegedly high asking price — Jayson Stark has reported that they want a top, top prospect for a Hellickson rental — and driven by the fact that the Phillies could just wait until November, give him a qualifying offer and take a pick for him.
Most likely destination: Hard to say, but he’s going to look a lot more attractive to teams like the Rangers the harder it is for them to get one of the top line guys.

Rich Hill, Athletics

Linked to: Same suspects as Hellicskson and the other starters.
Likelihood of being traded: High. It’s the A’s, they make deals.
Most likely destination: No clue. He’s no one’s top choice, but everyone is going to get more desperate between now and Monday afternoon.

OTHERS:

  • Edinson Volquez of the Royals, Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Julio Teheran of the Braves are mentioned as pitching targets, though it’s not at all certain those clubs are inclined to make a deal. This is especially true of the Braves who did quite well trading starting pitching last winter and may wish to wait until the offseason once again;
  • Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran are the top non-Lucroy/Bruce bats which have been mentioned. The Cubs and Orioles have been mentioned as possible suitors for Reddick. Gonzalez hasn’t been linked to any specific teams strongly, though he has reportedly asked to be traded. The Rockies winning more lately may make them hesitant to deal him, however. The Yankees still haven’t signaled that they’re waving the white flag. Trading Beltran means they’re waving the white flag.
  • Any reliever not pitching for a contending team is fair game. More relievers will likely change teams than anyone. So many that we’ll lose track of ’em.

We’d love to be more specific than that, but this is our eighth year of tracking the trade deadline at HardballTalk. That experience has taught us to expect the unexpected.

You can do a Jose Bautista bat flip in the new “NHL ’17” video game

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flips his bat after hitting a three-run homer during seventh inning game 5 American League Division Series baseball action in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
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Jose Bautista‘s bat flip from the 2015 playoffs has crossed sporting lines. Now, in addition to it angering old school killjoys and “play the game the right way” lame-os, you can use the bat flip to taunt your opponents in video game hockey.

That’s because the new “NHL ’17” game allows you to pick your own goal celebration. And one of them is the Bautista bat flip. It was discovered by a guy beta testing the game:

Why you’d pick any of the other celebrations is beyond me, but I suppose you can do what you’d like.