Dombrowski says Harper might be 'underrated'

May 16th, 2022

Every time Bryce Harper gets hot, the way he was really hot against the Dodgers last weekend before he took Sunday’s game off as a way of resting his injured elbow, it’s as if he reminds us all over again why and how he has been one of the great players of his time.

Mike Trout showed up in the big leagues a year ahead of Harper, Trout making his debut for the Angels in 2011. Harper came along as a teenager in ’12. Trout has won three MVP Awards. Harper has won two. Trout is 30 years old now. Harper doesn’t turn 30 until October. Still young. Still Bryce.

There are four active players who have won multiple MVP Awards: Trout, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Harper. Pujols and Cabrera won their awards in back-to-back seasons. Harper put six years between his first, with the Nationals in 2015, and his second, with the Phillies last season, despite missing 21 games. It was that way with Trout when he won his third MVP three years ago, despite missing 28 games in the ’19 season. Cabrera and Pujols are moving toward the door. Not Trout and Harper, who have been in parallel tracks for over a decade now, just on different sides of the country.

Dave Dombrowski, who has built winning teams in Miami and Detroit and Boston, and is now trying to do the same in Philadelphia, was asked about Harper on Sunday. This is Dombrowski’s second year running baseball operations for the Phillies, and thus having a front-row seat to what Harper can do. Dombrowski said that Harper checks every box you would ever want to check with a star player.

“He’s a tremendously gifted player who works extremely hard to get the most out of his abilities,” Dombrowski said. “He wants to excel at every aspect of the game, and, wants to win a championship badly. On top of all that, he is a dedicated family man.”

He wasn’t quite done. It was as if Dombrowski was just moving up on a big finish for the guy who is now his star.

“Also, in some ways, with all the talent he possesses, and, all the accolades he has received,” Dombrowski continued, “and the fact that he’s a Hall of Fame talent, in many ways he is underrated.”

A future Hall of Famer who is underrated. You don’t run into that combination an awful lot in baseball. Maybe you do with Harper: Former Rookie of the Year, six-time All-Star, two-time MVP. The kid out of Las Vegas has been famous from the time he made his debut, in Los Angeles, a decade ago. He was awarded a 13-year, $330 million free-agent contract when he signed with the Phillies, which broke a record at the time. But sometimes it really does seem as if we talk a lot more about the other young stars of baseball and not nearly enough about him.

But his teammates know who he is, what he can do. We can see what Trout has done, we can see what Shohei Ohtani is doing, as a hitter and as a pitcher. Juan Soto, now the kind of young franchise player for the Nationals that Harper was, has a world of talent himself. It does not change the fact that Harper has been a generational talent for two teams now.

Dave Roberts managed against Harper when Bryce was still in Washington. He is doing the same now that Harper is a Phillie. By the time Harper had homered in three straight games against the Dodgers, knocked in eight runs, went 8-for-12, and produced seven extra-base hits, Roberts had seen enough.

“I’m happy he’s not going to be in there tomorrow,” Roberts said on Saturday.

Harper did this despite the small tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Did this despite the fact that he is going to have to DH for a month because he can’t throw. The reason he took a day off and may take another one is because of a platelet-rich plasma injection near the area of his injury.

Here’s something Harper’s former Nats teammate Trea Turner, now a Dodger, said after watching the hitting display Harper put on at Dodger Stadium:

“You feel like he has a bad year, then you look up his numbers and he’s got a .900 OPS and he’s hitting really well. And then years, when it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s playing good,’ he wins the MVP.”

Kyle Schwarber is hitting home runs for the Phillies, but is still batting under .200. Nick Castellanos, another offseason acquisition, doesn’t yet have the power numbers he had with the Reds. And the Phillies have the same late-inning bullpen issues they have had for years. With all that, they got back to .500 Saturday and might have gone to 18-17 if Harper had gotten some swings on Sunday, continued to carry his team the way he did last season until they faded in September.

Hard to believe we underrate him sometimes. We do. Eleven years in the big leagues, still just 29, still checking all the boxes stars are supposed to check. And maybe the best thing about Bryce Harper is this: He became exactly the player we thought he was going to be.