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Resolution: Do the Right Thing with Bryce Harper
The Nationals have improved in each of the past two seasons, and fell just two games short of their first winning season since 2003, when they played in Montreal. The team has improved their roster through a combination of free agency and player development, and the team has in its sights its first playoff appearance since 1981.
A key component to the Nationals future success is super prospect Bryce Harper. Only 19 years old, Harper is one of the brightest future stars in the game. After playing exceptionally well in A ball in his Minor League debut last season, Harper had a bit more trouble in AA ball, but still showed tremendous promise. The drumbeat has begun for the Nationals to promote Harper to the Major League squad, and if the Nats find themselves off to a strong start in 2012, the temptation to do so will be strong.
The Nationals should resolve to resist this temptation and continue to develop Harper in the Minor Leagues. This is for reasons both baseball and financial. Harper's diminished productivity in AA ball demonstrates that he needs more time to develop his game in the Minor Leagues, and time spent in AAA ball against improved competition would go along way to provide Harper with near-Major League quality talent, and perhaps humble his notorious ego.
In terms of financial decisions, the Nationals would hurt themselves in the long run by promoting Harper to the Major Leagues too soon. Once a player has accrued three years of Major League service, he becomes eligible for arbitration, which for a talented player can result in a large bump in salary, costly for a Major League team. In addition to players with three years of service, the best players with two years of service, known as Super Twos, become arbitration eligible. Thus, if the Nationals promote Harper to the Major Leagues early in 2012 and he performs exceptionally well, he becomes arbitration eligible a year earlier than he otherwise would, costing the Nationals a significant amount of money.
The Nationals look better poised for success than they have at any time since they wore Expo red, white, and blue, but the team isn't yet at the point where they should make the costly moves necessary to compete for a pennant. By giving Harper more time to develop in the Minor Leagues and saving money in the process, the Nationals put themselves in a better position to win down the road.