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The Odd Course Of Baseball

LaHair has jogged in a lot of circles
LaHair has jogged in a lot of circles

Maybe this is something you haven't noticed, or maybe this is something you very much have noticed. Over the offseason, the Chicago Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo, and people figured Rizzo would be the first baseman of the future. What he wouldn't be was the first baseman of the present, as the Cubs openly made a commitment to Bryan LaHair. You remember Bryan LaHair? Bryan LaHair has batted 96 times so far. He's sporting a 1.279 OPS. That is a one, and then a dot, and then a two and a seven and a nine. As a Giant, Barry Bonds posted a 1.143 OPS. Bryan LaHair's just been producing more than Barry Bonds.

Of course, Bryan LaHair isn't close to this good. More than half of his balls in play have dropped for hits. (More than half.) He posted an .885 OPS a year ago in limited time. But, okay, forget about the OPS. So far, LaHair's posted one of baseball's highest walk rates, falling in between Adam Dunn and Evan Longoria. So far, LaHair's posted baseball's second-highest isolated slugging percentage, between Matt Kemp and Nick Swisher. Nick Swisher isn't even close. LaHair's numbers are inflated, but he's also been terrific.

And he's Bryan LaHair. The Mariners let him go for nothing. Not only did the Mariners let him go for nothing; few of us minded that the Mariners let him go for nothing. At least Michael Morse got traded for Ryan Langerhans, as if that's some consolation. Bryan LaHair got traded for a LaHair-free existence. In November 2009, he became a minor-league free agent. In January 2010, he signed with the Cubs. Eyebrows weren't raised. Nobody cared. It was Bryan LaHair.

LaHair has abused triple-A, and now he's abusing pitchers in the Majors. The Cubs' whole idea was to set out in a rebuilding season and see if LaHair is a quad-A player. Actually I think the Cubs have said they don't believe in quad-A players. Bryan LaHair is making them look sharp. He's hit eight of the Cubs' 18 home runs.

Justin Smoak is sitting on a .506 OPS. Justin Smoak's OPS is lower than Bryan LaHair's BABIP. Smoak was ranked baseball's #23 prospect after 2008, and he was ranked baseball's #13 prospect after 2009. He was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Texas. The Mariners could've sent Cliff Lee to New York in a package involving Jesus Montero, but they backed out and opted for the Smoak package instead. Smoak could be ready immediately, or if not immediately, then soon. He'd be the first baseman for a while. He'd be a true offensive building block.

Smoak's a mess now, and he was a mess a year ago. Somewhere along the line he lost it, or he failed to get it, or something. He could, of course, still rebound and flourish for the next 15 years, but he's encountered more career turbulence than most people thought he would. Right now, Justin Smoak can't hit. Right now, Bryan LaHair can't not hit.

The Mariners paid a high price for one, and let the other leave. They drew praise for the former, and drew no attention at all with the latter. Looking back now, for the 2010 season the Mariners signed Casey Kotchman. Casey Kotchman was the Mariners' everyday first baseman, after the organization lost Bryan LaHair to minor-league free agency. In hindsight, boy, should've given that chance to Bryan LaHair! Who knows what he might've done? He might have struggled like we thought he would've struggled. He might've hit a little. He might've hit a lot. He's left-handed, and he was not old.

I don't in any way blame the Mariners for not letting Bryan LaHair start in 2010. None of us would've wanted Bryan LaHair to start in 2010. It's just looking bad now, as if 2010 needed more ways it could look like a disaster. Remember when Cliff Lee walked six dudes over 13 starts? That was neat. Much of the rest was shitty.

In a way, what Bryan LaHair is doing is similar to what Mike Carp has done. Carp was a first baseman in the minors of limited interest, and then he started hitting for power. Now Carp might be a bat for the Mariners to build around. But while Carp has done okay with his shot with the Mariners, LaHair has been fantastic with the Cubs. We should want for Carp to establish himself the way that LaHair is establishing himself.

For a little while, I wanted to write a post about Bryan LaHair. This is what I came up with, because I couldn't think of anything good or compelling. Basically: look at what Bryan LaHair is doing, and remember that he is Bryan LaHair. Think about how you used to feel about Bryan LaHair. Maybe that guy was the franchise first baseman the Mariners let get away. Maybe he wasn't, but the fact that we can even think about it without laughing about it makes me want to laugh about it. What in the hell is up with baseball? What in the hell is up with baseball.