Washington Nationals are still contenders without Bryce Harper
By Tom Sileo
The Bryce Harper era is officially over for the Washington Nationals, but an exciting new chapter of perennial contention has only just begun.
Let’s get this out of the way: losing Bryce Harper hurts, especially to the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies. Any Washington Nationals fan who says otherwise is being delusional or downright dishonest.
The Nationals are not “better off” without Harper’s powerful bat in the lineup, but because of two young outfield stars and what could be the best starting rotation in franchise history, Washington might not feel his departure as much as anticipated. Except in the 19 games the Nats will face Philadelphia for the next 13 years, of course.
Even in head-to-head play, one could argue Harper should be more worried than his former team. It will not be enjoyable for the slugger to routinely face a pair of dominant lefties in Patrick Corbin and Sean Doolittle, not to mention righty flamethrowers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. He’ll still have to deal with many powerful New York Mets and Atlanta Braves arms, too.
None of this means Harper isn’t a great player. He most certainly is. Since high school, Harper’s generational talent has been obvious to almost any objective observer. That doesn’t mean he’s invincible, though, and in 2019 and beyond, the Washington Nationals have the arms necessary to consistently frustrate their former star.
While starting pitching is clearly Washington’s biggest strength, the stunning emergence of Juan Soto as one of the game’s elite hitters should make the post-Harper era a lot easier for Nats fans. Victor Robles is projected to be every bit as good as Soto, while Adam Eaton looks healthier this Spring Training than at any point since playing for the Chicago White Sox.
While Nolan Arenado’s monster contract might have upped the price, the front office of the post-Harper Nationals can also shift their focus to keeping Anthony Rendon in Washington. Rendon is one of baseball’s most underrated players, and if healthy, could prove every bit as valuable as Harper on the field.
For some baseball fans, the last four months have produced the most frustrating, unpredictable off-season since the infamous 1994-95 work stoppage. For some Nationals fans, the most unpredictable result isn’t Harper leaving, but that a strong case could be made for the Washington Nationals as NL East favorites even with their biggest superstar relocating inside the division.
Either way, it’s important for Nats fans to handle this difficult news with dignity and class. Let’s remember the good times and wish #34 well, while also being excited about what lies ahead.
With Washington’s elite starting pitching and a younger, perhaps even more dynamic lineup, beating the Nationals might ultimately prove to be Bryce Harper’s biggest challenge in Philadelphia.