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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo defends Bryce Harper against anonymous NL exec who called him ‘overrated’

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: General manager Mike Rizzo looks on during batting practice before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

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Earlier today, Craig highlighted a report from Robert Murray of FanRag Sports, who quoted an anonymous National League executive. The executive called Harper “overrated” and “a losing player.” The exec also said, “If I was in charge and had money, my team would not pursue him.”

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo defended Harper against the criticism during batting practice Tuesday evening. Per Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Rizzo said:

I think it’s just totally unfair on so many levels. First of all, the premise is entirely wrong. Bryce Harper is a winner. He’s been a winner his whole life. He’s been a rookie of the year, five-time All-Star, an MVP. He’s won more games since he’s been called up to the big leagues than any player in the major leagues.

So how is that a loser? This guy has done nothing but been a tremendous advocate for the Washington Nationals — between the lines, in the dugout, in the clubhouse and in the community. His charitable endeavors and his philanthropic efforts have been second-to-none. Two fields in Washington D.C. with his name on it, for the kids. So he’s as far from a loser as you can possibly get. He’s a champion. He’s a winner. Always has been. Always will be. And these anonymous quotes from these unnamed sources like a National League executive, it’s cowardly, it’s chicken s***, and it’s gutless.

This is yellow journalism. This is sensationalism. This is somebody that nobody knows about writing something outrageous from a source nobody can confirm to get name recognition and clicks on some kind of blog. We’ll never see this person, this National League executive. Obviously, he’s never been with Harper or knows Harper because if he was then he would not have said what he said about him being a loser and about he cares only for himself.

It’s total bull**** and it’s something that should be exposed for what it is. And it’s either just being a hater or — it’s certainly unprofessional. If I found out someone in my organization said that, they would be fired the next day. And hopefully when I find out who this guy is, I’ll take care of that in my own way, but he should be fired also because, first of all, he can’t evaluate because Harper’s one of the best players in the league and one of the great advocates for the Washington Nationals.

It’s something that has to be talked about and exposed because otherwise if nobody says anything about it, it can’t go on. For another team’s executive — if it happened, if it was said — if another team’s executive to lambaste a player and denigrate this player’s ability level, his character, and his integrity, and not have the balls to put his name on it is cowardly and chicken s***. And he should be exposed for it.

Rizzo is quite right. It has never really made sense why some reporters give a platform to anonymous executives, whose words only serve to further the goals of the team (read: anti-labor) or further a petty squabble. Not every thought from a tangentially-related front office employee deserves a platform. Certainly not in this case.

Harper came into the major leagues with a bit of a reputation as an arrogant kid, but he hasn’t really done anything as a major leaguer to make that reputation stick. Harper got into a fight with the Giants’ Hunter Strickland last year, but the impetus was Strickland settling a three-year grudge when Harper gawked after hitting a home run -- a common cause of offense among pitchers -- in the playoffs. And as far as Harper’s production goes, he’s been hard to beat by anyone not named Mike Trout. As Rizzo mentioned, Harper won the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award and the 2015 NL MVP Award. This year, he leads the NL in home runs (19) and walks (48) but he’s batting .228 (largely due to an uncharacteristic .216 BABIP) so people think he’s having an awful year. Going by weighted on-base average (wOBA) -- my preferred catch-all offensive metric -- Harper’s .365 mark this season ranks 33rd among 159 qualified hitters in the majors. The league average is .313. The Nationals/Expos didn’t reach the postseason once between 1982 and 2011, but went to Game 5 in the NLDS in Harper’s first season in 2012 and have been playoff-bound four times in the last six years.

Good for Rizzo for standing up for Harper. He didn’t have to, especially with Harper almost certainly headed to free agency. And good for Rizzo for calling out the executive who abused his anonymity to baselessly trash one of baseball’s few certifiable stars.

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