Since the start of the 2012 season, one of the most talked-about players in all of baseball has been Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. The 21 year old was called up that year at the tender age of 19, and was extremely impressive. His 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and 18 stolen bases warranted him a trip to his first All-Star Game, as well as the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then , Harper’s young career has been something of a roller coaster ride. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but will he ever be the once in a generation talent many experts believed him to be?
Harper’s journey through the Major Leagues
After winning the ROY in 2012, Harper looked to be getting even better in 2013. Through April of that season, he hit .344 with 9 home runs and 18 RBIs. For that first month, he seemed ready to become an MVP-type player, following in the footsteps of fellow outfield phenom and 2012 AL ROY Mike Trout. However, that’s when things started going downhill.
In May of 2013, Harper hurt his knee crashing into the wall in Dodger Stadium. A month-long trip to the disabled list did not turn out to be enough, as he would not be the same player after returning. For the year he actually put up nearly identical statistics to his rookie year, with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, and a .274 batting average. These were good numbers, but slightly misleading, considering Harper was at his best in April. After his injury, though, he struggled mightily at the plate, partly because of the residual effects of his knee injury.
As the 2014 pennant race starts to kick into gear, we explore a number of teams who need to look to 2015 and beyond for their chance to compete. The second of these teams is the Chicago Cubs.
Cubs fans went into 2014 with little to no hopes of competing in the National League Central. As of the All-Star break, the Cubs are indeed a last place team, but one that can look toward the future. Several players they hope to build around are already shining in the major leagues, while others continue to develop in the minors. Earlier this month, Chicago bolstered an already strong farm system by trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for several prospects. (You can read more about how that trade benefits the Cubs here.)
Although the current roster is languishing in last place, several players have emerged as potential stars. Since being acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres, the Cubs have been waiting for 24 year old first baseman Anthony Rizzo to break out, and this year he has. After hitting just .233 last year, Rizzo has raised his average to .275, and his OBP to .381. His 20 home runs rank third in the league, and he is being recognized with a a selection to the National League All-Star team. Seeing his potential, the Cubs signed him to a long term deal that keeps him under team control at a reasonable price ($41 million minimum) until 2021.
Playing for the present
For what the Cubs got in this year’s first blockbuster trade and what it means for them, check out yesterday’s piece. The deal was a play to the future for the Cubs, but what about the A’s? Was it a wise decision?
There are always risks in trades. Heck, there are risks in signings, draft picks, promoting players at certain times. Risk is all part of the game. But don’t let yourself think for a minute that this deal was a bad move for the A’s just because it’s a win-now play that could have consequences.
The Oakland Athletics lead the AL West by 3.5 games with the best record in baseball, 55-33. The move is a play from strength. While there may be an effect on the future due to some impact on the farm system, acquiring two pitchers in a trade signals to A’s fans that the front office thinks this is their year.
Why trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel will work out in the long term for the Cubs
After winning consecutive NL Central titles in 2007-2008, and finishing second in 2009, the Chicago Cubs have suffered through four straight losing seasons. Going further back, the last time this team won the World Series was 1908, almost a full 106 years ago. It makes sense that the Cubs would go to extraordinary lengths to build a team that will contend for longer than just one or two years.
News of a blockbuster trade between the Cubs and the Oakland A’s just serves as evidence of what the organization is trying to do. The fact that they traded their two statistically best starting pitchers for three potential future stars shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Despite stellar seasons by Jeff Samardzija (2.74 ERA) and Jason Hammel (2.98 ERA), the Cubs are virtually out of the playoff race. At 38-47, they are in last place in the NL Central, twelve and a half games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, and eight and a half games out of the second NL wild card spot. Coming into the season, the Cubs did not expect to be legitimate contenders, but rather hoped to build for the near future. To better understand how this trade accomplishes that goal, it helps to break it down by what the Cubs gave up, and what they gained.
This post concludes my series on a number of high-profile Cuban players who defected to the MLB.
Monday, Jose Abreu. Tuesday: Yasiel Puig. Wednesday: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Thursday: Aroldis Chapman.
This last post on the subject features two more 2011 defectors, Yoenis Céspedes and Jorge Soler.
Yoenis Céspedes was a household name while playing in Cuba, leading the league in all sorts of offensive categories. Jorge Soler was a promising 20-year old who had performed well in the World Junior Baseball Championship. Both defected in 2011, but Cespedes was the first to be approved as an MLB free agent.
Céspedes was already proven from his numbers in Cuba, and was also in his prime. Céspedes’ famous YouTube video isn’t one of the gems of modern PR, but it worked. Well, maybe that had more to do with his raw talent. In any case, the deal he signed with the Oakland Athletics in February 2012 was a fairly lucrative one, at 4 years and $36 million.
There were a few questions about Céspedes — mostly about his defense — but his talent was widely recognized. Two years after falling short of signing Aroldis Chapman, the A’s had landed a big-name Cuban talent. The analysis (more from MLB Trade Rumors for specifics) have borne out exactly as evaluated: