The great debate: Bryce Harper or Mike Trout?
“Beatles or Stones?’’ responded Oakland general manager Billy Beane. “They’re both great, aren’t they?’’
Beane was one of the 55 people I asked this question. He was one of the ones who couldn’t give me an answer.
While I won’t reveal how everyone voted or attribute specific comments to respondents, among those asked were the following general managers/vice presidents: Boston’s Ben Cherington, the Yankees’ Brian Cashman, San Francisco’s Brian Sabean, Arizona’s Kevin Towers, Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin, Baltimore’s Dan Duquette, and the Cubs’ Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
We also reached out to talent evaluators J.P. Ricciardi (Mets), Paul Ricciarini (Astros), Charlie Kerfeld (Phillies), Tim Naehring (Yankees), Wayne Krivsky (Twins), John McLaren (former Red Sox coach and Mariners manager), Allard Baird (Red Sox), Rocco Baldelli (Rays), Glenn Tufts (Giants), Mike Brown (Diamondbacks), Tom Mooney (Brewers, who signed Ken Griffey Jr.), and Kevin Cash (Blue Jays).
We asked San Diego first base coach Dave Roberts and Baltimore third base coach DeMarlo Hale, and managers Brad Mills (Astros), Bobby Valentine (Red Sox), Jim Leyland (Tigers), Joe Maddon (Rays), and Charlie Manuel (Philadelphia).
We threw in broadcast analysts Kevin Kennedy, Jim Duquette, Larry Bowa, Matt Stairs, and Jerry Remy.
We even asked Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten.
Obviously, we did not ask anyone from the Angels or Nationals.
The upshot is that there certainly is a lot of support for both young superstars, and why wouldn’t there be? You can’t go wrong with either guy.
The breakdown was this: Harper 25, Trout 24. Six responders couldn’t decide, and we often heard, “I’ll take both.’’
Some of the comments were interesting.
“Trout right now, but Harper is coming on quickly.’’
“Harper. I’ll take lefthanded power any day.’’
“Seen both of them. Great debate. Trout!’’
“Nobody is as physically talented as Josh Hamilton, but Harper could be the closest thing. Trout is a middle-of-the-field player that everyone is looking for.’’
“Harper has big-time ceiling.’’
“Harper long-term. Trout right now. Harper plays hard all the time. Reminds me of Pete Rose that way.’’
“I think Trout has a tad more speed than Harper. But the way Harper plays the game so instinctively and quick-minded boggles my mind at 19 years old. Larry Walker with better speed.’’
“Harper. More fire and aggressiveness.’’
“In the end, Harper has more power.’’
“Harper doesn’t get enough credit for his makeup, too.’’
Said one Trout supporter: “The hip rotation on [Harper’s] swing may get him later, kind of like the golfers in the mid-’80s. The torque is much too great. Great talent, though.’’
One of our evaluators had Trout running 3.78 and 3.81 seconds to first on ground balls.
“Exceptional speed from the right side, may be unprecedented in recent times,’’ he said.
An older scout compared Trout to a young Valentine before a leg injury cost Valentine a promising playing career.
When approached about the Trout comparison, Valentine, who is a huge Harper fan, said, “As a matter of fact, he’s the only player I’ve ever thought was a similar player.’’
“I cannot think of a 20-year-old rookie who has impacted a team like him,’’ said a respondent. “Flip a coin! Trout, if I had to pick. More adjustability from what I’ve seen. Don’t forget about [Giancarlo] Stanton, either.’’
Indeed, Stanton is another powerful player in the mix as the game sees an influx of some very special young talent.
Harper and righthander Stephen Strasburg have made baseball in the nation’s capital fun again. In Los Angeles, Trout is exciting the masses, and in Oakland, Yoenis Cespedes looks like a multifaceted player. The Cubs recently signed Jorge Soler, another Cuban refugee, who appears to be a top-of-the-line outfielder and should be exciting to watch.
The White Sox have found a phenom in lefthander Chris Sale. The Red Sox have introduced lefthander Felix Doubront (not a rookie) and third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and both have shown great upside. Tampa Bay has lefty Matt Moore.
Still to come in Kansas City is outfielder Wil Myers, a good-looking young hitter who could excite the masses once he is up.
The Astros have discovered second baseman Jose Altuve, who is hitting .320 with 28 multi-hit games.
In the post-steroid era, it has been difficult to find impact positional players. Pitchers seem to have the upper hand nowadays, which in part is why Harper and Trout stand out so much. Both have attained “must-see’’ status.
The speed, the arms, the extraordinary things they do . . .
There is nothing like an infusion of youth to get a team going.
When Trout came up, the Angels were 6-14. They’re 28-16 since.
Jacoby Ellsbury did it for the Red Sox in 2007.
And right now, the Nationals and Angels are being ignited by two out-of-this-world players.
Apropos of nothing
1. Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson, a special assistant for the Marlins, has had more than a dozen knee procedures, including two replacements, and was one of the gutsiest performers in the game. And a Miami player actually told Dawson he couldn’t come out for early hitting because his knee was a little sore.
2. The life and times of Bobby Jenks get sadder by the day.
3. We’re still hearing that agent Arn Tellum has a chance to run the Padres.
4. If billionaire Steve Cohen, who bid for the Dodgers and lost out, gets the Padres, one of his closest friends is Bobby Valentine . . .
5. Would love to hear a conversation between Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and Ben Cherington about Jacoby Ellsbury. The Nats have been looking for that impact leadoff hitter/center fielder for a while, and they have an interesting pitcher or two that would fit Boston nicely. The Sox are convinced that Jackie Bradley is going to be a major league center fielder, and he is rising fast. So there is less reason to be held hostage by Ellsbury’s future contract demands and lengthy rehabs.
6. In my rankings of the best managing performances so far, I should have given honorable mention to Jim Leyland. The Tigers have been a personnel train wreck, with bodies going down everywhere, yet Leyland has kept them viable. Expect GM Dave Dombrowski to do something dramatic for a pitcher and a hitter by the trading deadline.
7. With the Cubs firing hitting guru Rudy Jaramillo, there is rising speculation that Sox coach Dave Magadan could head to Chicago when his contract expires after this season. Magadan has a link to Dale Sveum, with whom he coached in Boston, as well as the obvious ties to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
8. Managers really have to be allowed to name their own coaches. They can’t inherit them or have them appointed by the front office. It never works.
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia thinks the Marlins eventually will do what the Mets did at Citi Field: move the fences in. Miami crushed a few balls in Boston’s 2-1 win Tuesday and got nothing out of it.
10. Wrigley Field really needs a makeover.
11. Both of Ryan Dempster’s two career triples have come off Japanese pitchers: Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Apropos of something
POINT A: Teams are reassessing their commitment to scouting Japanese players. As one general manager put it to me, “Is all the money spent and devoted to scouting really yielding any great player? You’ve had Kei Igawa, Daisuke Matsuzaka, the kid from Minnesota [Tsuyoshi Nishioka], and really, is the money spent worth it?
“Yu Darvish was on everyone’s radar, and he started out well, but even with him, is he worth the $52 million posting fee, the contract, the money spent in scouting him?’’
Darvish rebounded from a terrible stretch with an 11-strikeout performance against the Astros Friday. That raised his record to 8-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 13 starts. In his last four starts before Friday, he had a 6.53 ERA and looked very beatable.
After 33 wins in his first two seasons in Boston, Matsuzaka has fizzled and had Tommy John surgery. Nishioka, the Twins shortstop, is now buried in Triple A. Kosuke Fukudome never became the hitter the Cubs’ scouts thought he would be.
The honest answer appears to be no, it’s not worth it. The money can be better spent in other areas of scouting.
POINT B: The recent Men’s Journal poll of 100 major league players that had Ozzie Guillen as the least respected manager (36 percent), followed by Bobby Valentine (14 percent) and Manny Acta (5 percent), seemed a little dubious. It also tells me how soft players have gotten, since those three are among the toughest managers.
“I don’t get paid for people to like me,’’ said Guillen. “I get paid to win games.’’
The Valentine ranking is particularly curious. While Guillen and Acta have long current résumés, Valentine hadn’t managed in the majors since 2002 before taking over the Red Sox. How many of the players polled had any experience with Valentine?
The other category was “most hated player.’’ White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski seems to win this category most years, and if I were Pierzynski, I’d be proud of it. He’s the proverbial guy you hate on other teams but would love to have on yours. Take solace, A.J., in knowing that Thurman Munson was hated, too, but what a player.
POINT C: Stephen Strasburg has now made 30 starts in the big leagues, over three seasons. His numbers: 14-5, 2.50 ERA, 169 IP, 131 H, 47 ER, 39 BB, 216 K.
Updates on nine
1. Jed Lowrie, SS, Astros - He has stroked 12 homers, and as we reported here a few weeks ago, has been added to the team’s trade list. Because he is a shortstop (even a very average one), Lowrie’s offensive ability may make him a target at the trading deadline. “The only issue,’’ said an American League general manager, “is do you trust he’ll stay healthy all year?’’ That has always been the issue.
2. Kevin Youkilis, 3B-1B, Red Sox - He said that having to shift from third to first hasn’t been ideal, but he understands the problem manager Bobby Valentine has trying to get everyone in the lineup, especially in interleague games. The shift is actually a plus for scouts who watch Youkilis, though he hasn’t performed well enough to wow anyone. The Pirates, who have become contenders in the NL Central, and Dodgers could be the teams most willing to pull the trigger. They could benefit from someone with Youkilis’s plate discipline.
3. Manny Ramirez, DH-OF, free agent - Though he hit .302 in 63 at-bats at Triple A, the A’s took their time deciding whether to promote him, and he asked for and received his release. Ramirez, 40, had only three extra-base hits (all doubles) and 14 RBIs. Now the question is, will anyone else give him a chance? In Baltimore, Dan Duquette is the man who signed Ramirez to that eight-year, $160 million deal in Boston. But Duquette said he is not interested. Toronto gave Vladimir Guerrero a chance and then released him. The Jays could use a big bat. But where has the power gone? Is being off performance-enhancing drugs reducing it, or has Ramirez just not hit his stride after being away from baseball for a year?
4. Franklin Morales, LHP, Red Sox - He was a starter in his younger days with the Rockies before command issues landed him in the bullpen. But Valentine seems to think he could be a starter again. It’s probably why you’ve seen Valentine trying to stretch out Morales, who consistently throws 95-96 miles per hour with a pretty tough slider. That would give the Sox three very tough lefties in the rotation in Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, and Morales, who will start in Josh Beckett’s place Sunday.
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP, Red Sox - There is every reason to believe he would like to remain in the major leagues and in Boston, where he feels comfortable with Valentine. But according to a major league source, Matsuzaka will be in demand in Japan since he is still relatively young and still considered a big name. Matsuzaka could earn another multiyear deal if he performs well this season.
6. Craig Shipley, former Red Sox international scouting director - It appears that Shipley, who has taken the year off after leaving the Sox, will have his choice of at least two landing spots when he decides to return. One would be Chicago, where Theo Epstein has an open invitation, and the other is Arizona, where GM Kevin Towers has reached out.
7. Daniel Bard, RHP, Red Sox - He has become an interesting topic of conversation among baseball people, who feel that if he gets himself straightened out, they wouldn’t be shocked to see the Red Sox move him. Bard had his best outing Thursday (two scoreless innings, four strikeouts) and it’s obvious that he is going to return to Boston as a reliever. Epstein has always been a big fan. Wonder if something could be worked out for Matt Garza?
8. Ryan Dempster, RHP, Cubs - Well, if he didn’t seal his fate with a tremendous outing against the Red Sox Friday (seven shutout innings, extending his scoreless streak to 22), he never will. There were scouts all over Wrigley to watch him. The Dodgers could pull the trigger soon. The Blue Jays also were watching. After Friday’s game, Dempster and his friends got together on the field and were having cocktails, as if toasting the end of his Cubs days. We’ll see.
9. Matt Garza, RHP, Cubs - He definitely could be the No. 1 target for teams needing a pitcher if it becomes evident that the Phillies aren’t going to entertain Cole Hamels talks, which appears to be the case. Epstein seems primed to move Garza, and he needs to get a pretty good bounty for him in an effort to rebuild. While Garza still has issues controlling his emotions, he would be a perfect piece for an AL East team.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Since 2009, Kevin Youkilis has played only 395 games; from 2006-08, he played in 437 games.’’ Also, “Derek Jeter is a lifetime .338 hitter against lefties. His .423 average this season is his highest ever, topping the .395 he hit in 2000 and 2009.’’ . . . Matt Cain’s perfect game was met with so much happiness in the Giants organization. “It was one of the special moments I’ve experienced since I’ve been in the game,’’ said GM Brian Sabean. “It couldn’t have happened to a better person.’’ . . . Funny things you see: Associated Press correspondent Ken Powtak was taking a stroll through Daley Park in Chicago Thursday with his teenage daughter, and imagine his surprise when he saw Matsuzaka playing long toss and working from the windup and the stretch. “No one bothered to stop - didn’t look like anyone noticed,’’ said Powtak. “It shows he was committed to getting his throwing in with Wrigley used for a Tigers-Cubs day game Thursday afternoon.’’ . . . Happy birthday, Donnie Sadler (37) and David Pauley (29).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.