Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper’s Commitment Problem
After a rocky 2016, Bryce Harper’s skipping of a team fan function does not bode well for his future with the Washington Nationals. How does 2017 end?
The Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper have a problem.
It is not clear how much they like each other. Yes, it is not uncommon for stars and teams not to see eye-to-eye on things. Players look out for their own best interests as teams do the same. For the two to have a complex relationship should not be a worry.
What started last season with Tom Verducci’s stories on a shoulder injury for Sports Illustrated—denied by everybody—leading to a strange late-season series in Atlanta. Against the Braves that weekend, Harper played so shallow in right, balls flew over his head. If baseball adopted softball’s rover position, Harper would fill it.
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Add the leak from somewhere he is after $40 million a season when eligible for free agency at the Winter Meetings and the Nats trade for Adam Eaton and you have a disconnect. This weekend during Washington’s Winterfest, Harper was in Las Vegas watching college basketball.
Sure, it was the Duke Blue Devils, but Daniel Murphy made the trek to DC.
For all the potential and talent Harper has, it is fair to question his commitment to the organization. Yes, Winterfest’s are not thrilling events or mandatory. Recently departed Danny Espinosa skipped this year unhappy with his new role. Then he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels. No, his Winterfest snub did not cause the deal.
Harper can write his name in the record books. A marketable figure, his ability to crush baseballs and do commercials spells fame and fortune with casual fans. He is 24 and gifted with an MVP award. Yet, his injury-plagued 2014 and rocky 2016 seasons sandwiched around his breakout year drag his numbers back to earth.
At the moment, a .279 hitter averaging 30 homers and 82 RBI a year hitter does not translate to the highest salary in the game. If he wants the big money, he has to earn it. Washington would love if he plays 2017 with a virtual piece of granite on his shoulder. They, in fact, are banking on it.
This upcoming season is a gamble for both Harper and the Nats.
Harper is skipping the World Baseball Classic to be ready for the upcoming season. A somewhat selfish move but understandable to a degree. To blow off an afternoon—even if it is tedious for players—with fans is different. Whatever differences he has with Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker is not the fans problem.
Cocky and arrogant is not a problem if you can back it up on the field. Reggie Jackson—the self-proclaimed “straw that stirred the drink” for those 1970s New York Yankees—delivered at the biggest times. Harper has yet to win a postseason series.
The money will come wherever he goes. If he thinks he is ready for a new challenge, fight hard and earn that money. Turn into the superstar he wants to be.
If he wants to go, next year’s Winter Meetings will be a nail biter that makes this year’s look cool. Or, in the dreams of Washington Nationals fans, Harper decides he wants to stay long-term.
Next: Who Closes In 2017 For DC?
Whatever happens, Harper determines his own future.