Looking at Nationals lineups with and without Harper

As the world waits for Bryce Harper to make his long-awaited decision, the Nationals wait to figure out what exactly their 2019 lineup is going to look like.

It’s no hyperbole to suggest this lineup would look dramatically different without Harper in it than with him, and not simply because of his large presence in the heart of it all.

There are some significant domino effects to Harper’s decision that will impact not only who bats in the middle of the lineup but probably the top as well.

Eaton-Hits-White-Day-Sidebar.jpgIf Harper stays in D.C., it’s difficult to see the Nationals keeping Adam Eaton. Not because they don’t like him or he doesn’t bring value to the lineup, because both absolutely are true. But because a lineup that includes both players would require one of them to play center field, making this club markedly worse defensively, and it would force Victor Robles back to the minor leagues.

The Nationals saw what an outfield of Juan Soto, Harper and Eaton looked like last season. Offensively, it’s very good. Defensively, it’s very not good. Harper needs to stay in right field, and general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged as much last month at Winterfest.

Robles - or, if the top prospect is deemed not quite ready yet, Michael A. Taylor - needs to be the everyday center fielder. And we know Soto is now entrenched in left field. So unless somebody is injured, there’s only one spot left for Harper or Eaton. And if Harper re-signs with the Nationals, we know who ends up the odd man out.

Here’s the dilemma, though: Who would take over leadoff duties in that scenario?

Eaton may not have been at full strength the last two seasons, but he has unquestionably proven he’s the Nationals’ best option in the leadoff spot. If he’s out of the picture, manager Davey Martinez probably finds himself sticking Trea Turner at the top (and hoping the young shortstop can continue to make strides working the count and cutting down on his strikeouts). Or maybe Martinez would take a chance with Robles, who has a .392 career on-base percentage in the minor leagues, and see if the rookie can handle the job.

It’s also possible the Nationals acquire a second baseman who can lead off, though none of the still-available free agents profile as natural leadoff hitters.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Turner ends up leading off. Here’s one potential lineup configuration:

SS Trea Turner
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
LF Juan Soto
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B TBD
CF Victor Robles
C Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki

That’s certainly a potent 2-3-4 trio, one that could cause some major damage, especially if Turner can consistently get on base. There would also be pressure on Zimmerman and the second baseman-to-be-named to drive in those big boys ahead of them in the lineup. But overall, this has the potential to be a very good lineup, especially if Robles is the real deal.

Now let’s configure a lineup that is without Harper but still includes Eaton:

RF Adam Eaton
SS Trea Turner
LF Juan Soto
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B TBD
CF Victor Robles
C Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki

Nobody is going to suggest that a lineup gets better dumping Harper in favor of Eaton, but this would give the Nationals a more established leadoff man, and still boasts a potentially potent 1-2-3-4 quartet, with Soto and Rendon facing the most pressure to drive in runs, followed by Zimmerman and the still-unknown second baseman.

In a perfect world, the Nats would be able to keep their best leadoff hitter and their best power hitter. But barring an injury to someone else or a position switch that hasn’t been suggested by club officials, it’s probably not going to happen.

So which lineup will it be? As has been the case all offseason to date, all we can do is sit back and wait for Harper to make his momentous decision.



blog comments powered by Disqus