With Bryce Harper, the popular narrative is always more fun than the reality. In the narrative, Harper is an arrogant, foul-mouthed punk who can’t keep his foot (or sometimes, entire baseballs) out of his mouth. In the narrative, Davey Johnson was lobbying for Harper to make the Nationals’ roster out of spring training, and Mike Rizzo was open to the idea.
But the reality is less sexy. Harper may be cocky, yes, but he isn’t a punk. What he is, is 19 — and rich and handsome and famous. And the Nationals may have wanted Harper to think he had a chance to make the club (what would be the point of telling him otherwise?), there was almost no chance of it actually happening. Remember this quote from Mike Rizzo in Jason Reid’s column on Feb. 14: “He’s going to make it to the big leagues when I realize that, developmentally, he’s ready to play in the big leagues. That’s physically, that’s emotionally and that’s psychologically.”
On Sunday, reality prevailed over the narrative: The Nationals sent Harper to Class AAA. But then again, there was virtually no other possible outcome.
*Harper is 19.
*He has played 37 games above Class A.
*If the Nationals keep him in the minors for about a month, they get an extra year of his services — in fact, his age-25 season — before he reaches free agency. If they keep him down for about three months, they can save millions of dollars in a few years by keeping him from reaching arbitration eligibility early.
And something else became apparent this spring: Harper isn’t ready. Or at the very least, it was no slam-dunk that he is ready. Spring training stats tend to be meaningless, or even misleading, but the reality is that Harper struck out 11 times in 28 at-bats this spring. Against lefties, he struck out four times in eight at-bats.
Someday, Brett Carroll can tell his grandkids that he beat out Bryce Harper for a roster spot. Well, not exactly. As we said, Harper was almost certainly headed to the minors anyway, and Carroll hasn’t made the team yet.
But it was interesting that Johnson, at one point Sunday, framed the decision to send Harper down in terms of the roster competition: “There are some guys in camp that are interesting that I need to look at,” Johnson said. “... I liked what I’ve seen from Carroll. I’m going to run [Roger Bernadina] out there some more. They deserve an opportunity to show they’ve progressed. The timing [for Harper] is just not quite there.”
The narrative said that Harper’s immense talent could not be denied. The reality is that, right here, right now, there are other players who can help the Nationals more.
And finally, a quick note: Today is the Nationals’ only scheduled off-day of the spring, so it might be a very light day of posting here.
FROM THE POST: