Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper went down with a gruesome knee injury on Saturday night. Here’s how it will affect the team.
UPDATE 11:15 AM- Nationals say MRI shows no structural damage. Bad bone bruise. Team expects him back this year.
The home crowd at Nationals Park was rambunctious when Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper stepped up to the plate in the first inning on Saturday night. Wilmer Difo had just doubled and now Harper came up with the tying run in scoring position.
Harper hit a grounder to first base, at least moving the runner over, but attempted to beat it out for a base hit. The home crowd cheered as he hustled down the first base line, but then immediately fell silent. Harper’s foot slid on the wet base and he hyperextended his knee, sending him flying and landing in a heap just past first base. Harper grabbed at his knee and everyone immediately feared the worst.
The Nationals have seen this one before. Adam Eaton suffered an eerily similar injury in April, tearing several ligaments in his knee and requiring surgery. If Harper’s knee is in a similar condition, he will undoubtedly be out for the rest of the 2017 season.
However, the Nats noticed something extremely encouraging after the game. Harper had seen the team doctor and had his leg wrapped, but was walking under his own power without much of a limp. He will undergo an MRI on Sunday, but this is appears to be an excellent sign before any testing is done.
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Another outstanding sign is that Dusty Baker announced that Harper will undergo an MRI on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the injury. In order to undergo an MRI, the swelling must subside. Eaton waited several days after sustaining his injury before undergoing an MRI.
If the MRI shows no structural damage and Harper just badly hyperextended his knee, he could return in time for the postseason. This is best case scenario, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a reach at this point. If the MRI shows that there is structural damage, Harper will almost certainly undergo surgery and return next year.
If the Nats are fortunate and Harper returns before the postseason, they will not be forced to make a move. Obviously someone would be needed to fill his spot in the majors in the meantime, but Michael Taylor will be ready to return in the near future. Once he returns, he, Brian Goodwin, Andrew Stevenson, Adam Lind, and Howie Kendrick can hold down the outfield.
If Harper is out long-term, the Nats may feel the need to make a move, but their best move may be to fill the hole internally.
Trea Turner is still working his way back from a wrist injury, but Difo has done an outstanding job in his absence. Difo has contributed great defense, the ability to get on base, speed, occasional power, and phenomenal energy. Not only has he filled the hole at shortstop, he has excelled. However, there won’t be a spot for him when Turner returns.
If Harper is forced to miss a significant period of time, Difo could remain at shortstop and Turner could play center field. While the Nats may be hesitant to move Turner away from his natural position, he played a solid center field last season. He could certainly play center for the rest of the season with Goodwin in right, which allows Difo to remain an everyday player.
If Harper is out long-term and the Nats don’t feel comfortable with Turner in center, they could attempt to acquire an outfielder. While the non-waiver trade deadline has passed, trades are still possible through the end of August. However, the process is much more complicated.
In order to be traded, the player must pass through waivers. More players could be passed through waivers, but the outfielders who can currently be traded are Jose Bautista, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Curtis Granderson.
From that list, you’d think Upton and Cespedes are highly unlikely options. They both have enormous contracts and are controlled for a few seasons. The Nats will have a logjam of outfielders next season after Harper and Eaton return, even if Jayson Werth walks in free agency.
Bautista and Granderson, however, appear to be possibilities. Bautista is under team control for next season, but it’s a mutual option so the Nats could decline his option if the wanted to. He may be difficult to acquire, though, because Toronto is only 4 games back in the Wild Card race.
Granderson also appears to be a possibility because his contract expires after this season, so the Nats could let him walk if they wanted to. Unfortunately, he currently plays for the Mets, who may not want to help the Nats. They recently traded Jay Bruce to the Indians, choosing a lesser return to avoid trading him to the Yankees.
While Harper’s injury was gruesome and everyone immediately feared the worst, he may be able to return in time for the postseason. However, if he is out for the season, the Nats have several options to choose from to replace him. Their best option is likely to fill the hole internally, but there are several trade candidates. We wish for the best regarding Harper’s injury and are anxiously awaiting an update.