Welcome to the team, Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper is expected to make his MLB debut tonight in Los Angeles, where the Nats are facing the Dodgers. The news was a bit of a surprise, since Harper was hitting an unimpressive .250/.333/.375 in only twenty AAA games for Syracuse.
For Harper and his family, the timing of his debut (a Saturday evening) and its location (Dodgers Stadium, only a few hours drive from his hometown of Las Vegas) are especially fortuitous—I imagine he’ll have a significant crowd of family and friends attending.
How long Harper will stick depends, of course, on how well he plays. If he starts 1 for 40, for example, he would have a quick return trip to upstate New York. My guess, though, is that he’ll stick for a while. Although Ryan Zimmerman‘s trip to the DL is the proximate cause for his promotion, in order to stay he really only needs to play better than Xavier Nady and/or Mark DeRosa. The more interesting decision point is likely to come when Michael Morse returns, which could be a couple of months away.
A lot of the discussion about Harper’s promotion has been about its potential cost to the team in terms of its impact on his Super Two arbitration status. Although Super Two is potentially costly, I don’t think it should be decisive for a team with relatively deep pockets. His promotion could be a good business move for the Lerners, even if they risk paying more in arbitration. If he does well with the Nats, it might help push the Nats into post-season contention. If so, the team could easily recoup the cost in extra ticket sales and other revenue. If he doesn’t do well, he’ll return to the Chiefs for further development and lose his Super Two status.
Another factor that Mike Rizzo and the Lerners may be considering is that his early promotion may help build good will with the player and improve their chances of eventually signing him to an extension. Moderate-cost extensions of players who are eligible for arbitration or free agency have become the new market inefficiency—a way for teams to obtain talent at below-market rates and gain a competitive edge. These extensions aren’t always good deals for the teams, but some (such as Evan Longoria’s extension with the Rays) have been great for the teams.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the role of Davey Johnson, who has repeatedly lobbied for Harper’s promotion. Johnson obviously loves to work with young talent and much of his managerial success has been built with young, hungry players. I’m sure that Harper wouldn’t have been promoted without Johnson’s strong support. I look forward to seeing if Davey can work his magic again.