BRYCE HARPER NEARING THE END OF THE RAINBOW

Bryce Harper

For those of you expecting to see my capsule comments of the National League Central today, please forgive me. I am altering my own plan to write about a story that intrigues me.

Instead of continuing my six-part series on each MLB division, I am diverting today to discuss the end of the rainbow for the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper. Indeed, my friends, Mr. Harper will find the pot of gold in the offseason.

I was able to once again watch the Washington Nationals live as they played the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. Bryce Harper was front and center in my vision at all times.

After watching baseball for years, I remain very excited about the current athletes playing the game. In my estimation, there are six incredible baseball players that will be gracing the game with their presence for years to come. I break these generational talents into two groups:

Mike Trout

Bryce Harper

Jose Altuve


Vladimir Guererro Jr.

Eloy Jimenez

Ronald Acuna

What sets these six players apart?

What sets them apart?  I begin with a very simple commonality among them; eye-hand coordination and coordination in general. Great athletes have great coordination. They can do things with their bodies that most of us dream about. They are strong and powerful while at the same time being agile.  Agility and the ability to move freely with flow and grace comes from a combination of good genes, good conditioning, constant practice and perseverance.  Watch Trout, Harper and Altuve move to balls on defense.  Watch them as they run the bases or leave home plate to first base. They are not to be denied. They are driven. Each in his own way.  Trout and Harper will knock down a wall that may be in their way from catching a fly ball. Altuve would do the same if he were playing the outfield-which he could.

Tremendous instincts and knowledge of their own bodies, the game they are playing, the opposition they are playing against and the current situation help dictate their game. They act and react naturally. But they rarely react. They are ahead of the curve. They anticipate. And they ’re usually correct. Instincts. Crucial.

Eye-hand coordination allows Trout, Harper and Altuve the ability to see the ball they are about to hit from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand. Of course, tons of baseball players do that every day. But Trout, Harper and Altuve are rarely fooled. They may swing and miss the pitch because they are human. But they see the pitch they are missing with clarity and a sense of purpose.

Fantastic bat speed is another common quality. These guys get the bat through the ball in a flash. Bat speed kills. It’s just a different type of speed that kills.

These megastars can each accept pressure. Put a batting title on the line. Put a stolen base title on the line. Put a milestone accomplishment on the line. Each will be there to scoop it up and accept the pressure that comes with each and every such attempt. They are as calm and cool as one might possibly imagine. Never let them see you sweat?  The only sweat on them is from hard work, not from worry.

Each of those three Super Stars has uncommon strength. Harper doesn’t have the strongest and biggest lower body. His strength is more distributed throughout his body. His wrists and forearms are amazingly strong. His upper body is possibly where most of the strength generates. But he uses his legs to drive through the ball with lightning bat speed. Bat speed for Harper? Check.

Trout generates his strength throughout his body. He can muscle a ball to any field after he sees it quickly and gets that bat in motion. He is strong enough to wait for a pitch to come to him. He can take a pitch where it is thrown. He trusts his hands. That’s crucial. A hitter has to trust his hands in the same manner as a piano player trusts his hands.  That’s why any injury to a player’s hands, fingers or wrists is extremely meaningful. Quick hands through the ball generate the speed, backspin and strength of the drive. Bat speed for Trout? Check.

Altuve is 5-foot-6 inches of strength. He can get power from his toes to his nose. Just when people think Altuve has been playing over his skis he comes up with a crucial home run, a double or a valuable RBI single. And then once he’s on base, he steals and gets in scoring position. Altuve has instincts that are off the charts and bat speed that is amazing. Bat speed for Altuve? Check.

The upcoming free agency of Bryce Harper is going to offer a great deal of anticipation and excitement for seam heads like you and me.  Why?  Because Bryce Harper will be entering age 26 in the offseason. His 26th birthday will be in October. Friends, most free agent stars enter free agency in their 30’s. He and Manny Machado will be 26. Think of the contracts they can generate. Machado is a discussion for another time. Today I’ll concentrate on Harper.

Of course, Harper is smart about his pending free agency. Frankly, Bryce Harper may become the first person on earth who will ever really find the end of the rainbow. Yes, Machado will cash in as well, but I think Harper will set financial contract records in baseball.  And when he finds the end of the rainbow, he may well be young enough to sign another contract in his lifetime. That’s actually scary to think about. I doubt it’ll happen, but it could.

I see Harper getting a ten-year contract. His contract may go from 2019-2029. He would be 36 when his ten-year contract expires. The team that signs Harper will get him in his prime age 26 through 30 years. Those years alone will likely be worth the blank check he may sign. Or maybe Harper signs for longer than ten years. Why not? Some team will pay. When it’s all said and done, maybe the winning team will be the one offering the longest contract.

HARPER THIS YEAR

Bryce Harper knows what lies ahead. But Bryce Harper knows only one way to play the game–all out. One has to wonder if he tells himself to put on the brakes before crashing into the wall this year? One has to wonder if he tells himself to be cautious if he attempts to steal? An injury is likely to be the only thing that can keep Harper from finding the end of the rainbow.  He’ll record solid numbers in home runs and RBIs by the end of the season. His batting average will rise above the current level where he is looking up at .250. He is fearless. He has already stolen as many bases this year as last. But I don’t think Bryce Harper will play this season with his hair on fire.

If he gets to the postseason the pressure will be extensive to perform for his Nationals team that hasn’t advanced in the playoffs as they had hoped. Couple that with the talk of his pending free agency  in August, September, October and November and it adds up to pressure.  Harper can take the pressure.

HARPER IN THE FUTURE

Where does Harper find the rainbow and his pot of gold? Good question. Not in any particular order of my thinking, here are some possibilities:

Washington Nationals-Wouldn’t it make sense for Harper to sign with his current club? Yes, and no. He and his agent Scott Boras have a great relationship with Nationals ownership. That’s really important. There is a built-in trust. Boras and the Nationals know one another. Does Harper want to stay in Washington? If he stays, the window for a Championship will still be open as long as they retain good starting pitching and the supporting cast is in place. And we must not forget that nobody knows Harper as well as the Nationals front office. So don’t automatically count out the Nationals as his next home for a long, long contract. And yes, I think the Nationals have the financial capability to pay Harper in a long-term deal.

Chicago Cubs- Well, there’s lots of buzz that Harper wants to reunite with high school friend Kris Bryant. And why not?  There will be a great comfort level for Bryant and Harper playing together and being with their families together. Add in the bat of Anthony Rizzo and the supporting cast of Javier Baez, Ian Happ and others and the Cubs could contend every year for years and years. I can only imagine what the competition between Bryant and Harper would be for statistics and even attention among fans and media. They are human beings and I’m sure both would be well aware of the inside and outside commentary regarding their companionship and play.  Do the Cubs have the money to pay Harper?  I haven’t seen the books, but I certainly assume so.  Do they have the desire to add to their payroll and pay a luxury tax?

That’s a big question that will have to be answered this coming fall.

Philadelphia Phillies-I know, they really aren’t a contending team yet. Or are they? I think the Phillies are one of the up and coming clubs in the game. Adding Bryce Harper would put the icing on the cake for a franchise that in recent years has been doing most things correctly. Add Harper to Rhys Hoskins and they could form a dangerous duo around which to build a club. Harper would get to stay in the National League and hit in a very hitter-friendly park, something we cannot truly say about Washington. With the addition of Harper and the young pitching that is making its mark in Philadelphia, the team could take off and contend for years. Do they have the money? I believe they do and I believe they have planned for the day when they can add that one great player to an already solid everyday lineup. I like Philadelphia as a landing spot.

Atlanta Braves- Another up and coming franchise that can build around potential Super Star Ronald Acuna. How about a duo of Acuna and Harper roaming the outfield in the new Atlanta stadium for years to come? It’s an attractive possibility. Add in Ozzie Albies as another player that many are calling “Altuve Light” and the Braves can be very dangerous. They would have power, speed and a core of players that take them to the top part of their division for years to come. While I don’t see the same type of roster depth with the Braves I see with the Phillies around the entire diamond, the Braves have a new stadium that plays nicely for hitters and the foundation of pitchers that can make things happen. Do they have the money to pay Harper? I think they do, and I think they’ve been waiting for their new stadium to reinvent themselves. Who better than Acuna, Albies and Harper to do that?

Los Angeles Dodgers-This is one inconsistent, hard to understand franchise. They traded to get Matt Kemp back into their outfield. When his money comes off the books it will certainly pave the way for the entrance of Harper. He would join a club on which he would be needed and revered. He may be important on a team that isn’t getting younger and a team that has dealt with injury after injury in the present and recent past. Harper would team with young hitter Cody Bellinger and with Corey Seager when he returns from surgery to make a nice nucleus. Probably more than any of the teams I mentioned previously, the Dodgers need the offense, the energy and the power Harper can offer. The Dodgers pitching has been their strength. However, how long into the future will the team be all about Clayton Kershaw? We are already seeing cracks in that protective wall. And Kershaw can opt out of his contract after this season. Will he? Who knows? Do the Dodgers have the money to afford Harper? Without a doubt. And I believe they have the need and the desire to make it happen with either Harper or Manny Machado.

Los Angeles Angels- I realize the Angels just added Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton to the payroll. They already have an expensive Mike Trout. And Albert Pujols is signed until 2021.

They owe him $87MM after this season. Lots of money will be going out the door. But owner Artie Moreno has shown a willingness to spend for quality players in the past, just as Pujols proves. Will he take a chance on Harper? Why not? The Angels can slip him nicely into right field instead of the weak-hitting Kole Calhoun and he can help form a nucleus with Trout, and Upton in what would be one of baseball’s finest offensive and defensive outfields. I do think the Angels should spend their money on pitching, perhaps for an arm like Kershaw if he chooses to test his free agent waters, but Harper could make the opposition very nervous with that type of thunder in the lineup. Yes, the pitching is still not the type that wins World Championships and the Astros may well be a consistent roadblock in their division, but Harper to the Angels shouldn’t be ruled out.

NOT PLAYING THIS TIME

I don’t see the financially capable Boston Red Sox going after Harper. Their outfield of Benintendi, Bradley Jr. and Martinez is superb. Would Harper offer an upgrade over Bradley? On offense, yes. On defense?  I’m not so sure. My biggest reason for putting them on the sidelines this year revolves around the money they just invested in J. D. Martinez. It took time for them to get that done and I’m not persuaded they want to play in the Harper poker game. I also think that Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi will have their own paydays coming soon enough for the Red Sox to go into these next few years controlling those two stars and preparing for their huge contract requests. Xander Bogaerts is another in line for an eventual pay day. So while I think the Red Sox can afford Harper, I don’t think they need Harper to contend in the next several years.

New York Yankees-It isn’t Harper the Yankees need. They already have Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez as three outstanding power sources. Greg Bird, injury prone as he is, will also add significant thump to the club. Their need is pitching. They can use another long-term starter. I’m not sold on Sonny Gray, and I don’t think the Yankees are either. C. C. Sabathia is at the end of the trolley line. He has to jump off soon. How much more does Masahiro Tanaka have in his tank?  Basically, how many innings are left in his elbow and arm? Issues with the Yankees begin and end on the bump. And we shouldn’t forget that the presence of rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres have driven a very good hitting Brandon Drury back to minor league baseball and that’s a real shame. More hitting and firepower is not what they need.

The Houston Astros are loaded with their own stars in Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer and solid, solid pitching. While any team could benefit with the presence of Harper, it doesn’t make sense for Houston to spend money on a player they really don’t need in order to compete.

While the team that may need Harper the most could be Cleveland, I don’t see any way in the world their owner and front office would even consider signing him. The team let Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana leave for money. They didn’t sign their own Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw, two relievers that could have made a difference this season. They may allow closer Cody Allen and set-up man Andrew Miller to walk this fall as free agents. There is no way they sign Harper.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

I have seen Vlad Guerrero, Jr. and Eloy Jimenez play baseball. If you haven’t seen either yet, get ready. And we have all seen Ronald Acuna play baseball. I can’t wait until each of those young men become household names and stars in their own right going forward.

It is my intention to continue to follow their careers and provide continuing reports on their progress and ultimately…their success.

BUNTS

The Supreme Court decision that allows all states to determine the legality of sports gambling in their states has tremendous ramifications. Yes, it will bring billions of dollars that at one point went underground out in the open. It will create a new culture of gambling among people that had never participated. And, yes, it will call for intense scrutiny and security on the part of all entities that are involved in sports at every level. The environment for corruption will be pervasive throughout the sports world, with the most vulnerable environments surrounding college sports.

People ask me why great scrutiny and security are essential? Here’s a few reasons:

To begin, all it takes is one offender on a team who has been motivated by financial reward for altering his/her performance in behalf of a benevolent gambler.  Can it happen? Yes.  How about:

Point shaving in basketball

Missed shots and free throws in basketball to skew a game

Intentional turnovers in basketball to skew a game

Intentional fouls in basketball

Dropped passes in football

Fumbles in football

Missed tackles in football

Intentional interceptions in football

Intentional penalties in football

Intentional errors in baseball

Intentional strikeouts in baseball

Intentional missed execution of fundamentals in baseball

Intentional poor pitching command and control in baseball

Intentional poor managing decisions in baseball

Intentional desire to be ejected from a game in baseball

Missed shots on goal on purpose in hockey

Poor line management in hockey

Poor intentional shots on goal in hockey

Poor intentional goalkeeping in hockey

Intentional penalties in hockey

Poor lineup construction in all sports

Gambling addiction by all involved in every sport

Enticing sports “gimmick” bets that might include: who strikes out first in a game, who makes the first basket in a game, etc., etc., etc. Those can be lethal

And those are just a few ways in some major sports. The issues will require intense security of players and management at every level. Costs of that security will be extensive.

Already sports teams and leagues are indicating they want money from sports gambling transactions to help defray the costs of security.

One can argue that those involved with sports can gamble now. True. But the gambling landscape of the future is so much more vast. Pick a state. Chances are if gambling isn’t legal in every state, there will be state nearby that can handle the gambling of those people associated directly with a sports team.

While there is much to be excited about for some people in the Supreme Court ruling, the issues and impact could prove to be a nightmare for those charged with the responsibility of managing the teams and the games they play.

Robbie Cano Suspension

Robbie Cano got caught taking a banned substance, a diuretic known as furosemide. there are reports that apparently tried to mask another substance by using the diuretic and got caught. He will be suspended for 80 games.

I have no sympathy for Mr. Cano or any other player in any sport that chooses to be selfish and use banned substances. The player is cheating his team, the team’s management, the team’s families and most of all the team’s fans. I don’t care that he is cheating himself. But he is cheating those in his own family and those he loves and those who love him. I’m glad Cano got caught.

There is a great deal of buzz around the baseball world that Cano is far from alone in his substance use. Word is that masking chemicals are so good the players are one or two steps ahead of science. And it isn’t just in baseball.  Here’s hoping those who cheat to get ahead will all be caught and fall behind.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff