So will the Nats Park crowd greet former Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in a Phillies uniform April 2 for that first at-bat with resounding boos? Or will there be a standing ovation like Ian Desmond enjoyed in his return to D.C. after leaving for another team?
If there are boos, Harper will let it wash off like he has every other time he has been greeted with a negative reaction in an opponent’s park. Every time I covered the Nats on the road, in places like Milwaukee, Atlanta, New York, Miami and oh yes, Philadelphia, he would continue on through each at-bat and eventually connect or make a big difference with his bat later in the game, sometimes more than once.
But it is tough to think of Harper in another jersey - especially that of a team the Nats face 19 times a season - through 2032. After all, this is the same guy who, at 19 years of age, played 139 games as a rookie with the Nats in 2012. He won Rookie of the Year that season, finished 30th in the MVP voting and made the first of his six All-Star appearances.
In 2009, I would check in with College of Southern Nevada coach Tim Chambers on the progress of Harper on his team. One afternoon after I kept asking Chambers about Harper, he asked if I wanted to just talk to Bryce instead?
Yes, yes I do. Thank you very much.
Harper was reading a Willie Mays biography at the time and talked about his favorite player, Robinson Canó of the New York Yankees.
He has made close to $48 million with the Nats, plus a $10 million signing bonus. Now he has agreed to a $330 million deal over 13 years with no opt-out with the Phillies.
Absolutely it will sting a bit for Nats fans to not have Harper around. It’s become something comfortable and appreciated. The Nats broke out in 2012 thanks in part to No. 1 overall selections Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Harper slashed .270/.340/.477 with 22 homers and 59 RBIs that season. Strasburg went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA with 197 strikeouts. They combined to help the Nats win their first ever division title. It was a beginning of a run that saw the Nationals reach the postseason four out of six seasons.
Over those seven seasons with the Nats, opponents’ first priority was to try to find a way to get Harper out. Now the Nats will have to do that.
But the cupboard is far from bare for the Nats. The team has shored up its starting rotation with the addition of left-hander Patrick Corbin to go with Max Scherzer and Strasburg. The Nats have not one, but two up-and-coming stars in the outfield in Juan Soto and Victor Robles. Anthony Rendon is a Top 5 third baseman. Sean Doolittle is an outstanding closer. Trea Turner, Brian Dozier and Ryan Zimmerman round out the solid infield. Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki elevate the catching position. Adam Eaton is legit in right field. There is a long list of other players who have the potential to grow or to return to previous success in Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Ross, Kyle Barraclough, Aníbal Sánchez, Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo, to mention a few.
So Harper is a tough out? Of course he is.
But this 2019 Nationals roster is a tough out. These pitchers are going to be hard to score upon.
The best thing for the Nats to do this season is to come together in their new clubhouse and focus on getting back to the top of the division and back into the postseason for the first time since 2017. They have plenty of talent at their disposal to do just that. This time, for the first time, without Harper.