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.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.