We? He can’t help it. His whole life is an appointment with the future.
At first, I thought Johnson was crazy, pushing too hard for a player who struggled a bit at Class AA last year and has made too many look-at-me headlines. Give him a half-year more, at least, in the minors. What’s the harm? But I’m changing my mind. Assuming old pros such as Livan Hernandez, who starts for the Houston Astros on Saturday against the Nats, don’t mess with his mind too much, when would it make sense to bring up Harper if he plays well?
Circle April 26 on your baseball calendar as a potential Harper debut. By keeping Harper in the minors for 21 days to start the season, he couldn’t become a free agent until after 2018, rather than 2017. (That’s the MLB rule.) Obviously, you don’t want to give away a full year of Harper at age 25 for the sake of three weeks this season. If Harper starts opening day, and becomes free agency eligible after 2017, somebody’s lost his mind.
However, if the Nats bring up Harper early in the season, he’ll become a Super Two player who’s eligible for salary arbitration a year sooner; that might cost the Nats $10 million or more someday if he’s as good as Ryan Howard. This year, to avoid triggering such Super Two status under the new CBA rules, teams may hold back players until late June.
The Nats faced similar decisions in 2010. They brought up Storen fast in May — letting him become a Super Two — because he was ready for the majors and the bullpen needed him. For good developmental reasons, Strasburg didn’t come up until June. No Super Two for you.
The Nats have opened their wallets recently with $152 million in sensible but not risk-free contract extensions to Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Morse and Gio Gonzalez. Fifty more games of Harper might not mean so much. At 19, even Mickey Mantle hit just .267 with 13 homers and Ken Griffey Jr., .264 with 16. But it could also be worth a vital extra game or two by September.
What has quickly become clear in Viera is that so many coaches and players, as well as the manager, are impressed with Harper that the right field job — by midseason at the latest — is probably now his to lose.
Isn’t this just more pressure on a teenager? Or, more likely, is that exactly what he loves?
“It’s always great to see a big talent arrive,” Storen said. “Bring those type of guys right in.”
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/