Naatz: Harper going to Philly will pay off for Nationals
Tom Naatz | Monday, March 4, 2019
In December, I penned an Inside Column bidding The Observer a heartfelt goodbye for the duration of my time abroad. Nevertheless, here I sit typing a column on my phone while sitting on a bus winding its way through the south of Spain because I have strong feelings about a recent happening in the sports-verse.
Last week, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. As a loyal Washington Nationals fan, perhaps I should’ve been upset. I know many Nats fans are livid. For example, my twin sister spent Saturday Instagram messaging the $330-million man expressing her disappointment, with one of these messages including a gif featuring Neville Papperman from “iCarly” declaring “You will rue the day!” (she is awaiting response). I am not quite that upset. In fact, I am thrilled.
Of course, there is an emotional attachment to Harper in D.C. Before they used their second-straight No. 1 pick on the Las Vegas native, the Nationals had nothing to brag about. Billed as the next big thing in baseball, Harper was our first electric, national headline-grabbing player.
Quite honestly though, he lived off the hype and the occasional flash of brilliance. Save a superhuman MVP season in 2015 in which he batted .330, hit 42 homers and drove in 99 runs, his career has been underwhelming given the expectations. Harper followed up his MVP season with a dud of a 2016. For the first half of 2018, his contract season, he struggled to crack a .200 batting average. Offensively, he has no idea how to play situational baseball. He swings for the fences no matter the situation, even when a simple sacrifice fly or a single could score the game-winning run. Defensively, he’s a liability in the outfield. I will never forget the May 2013 morning when my father woke me up to go to school during a Nats West Coast road trip with the words, “The Nats won, but Bryce Harper ran into a wall.” He has a cannon of an arm but consistently misplays routine fly balls and throws to the wrong base.
Furthermore, he is a toxic clubhouse presence. His track record suggests that, in Bryce Harper’s world, the Earth revolves around Bryce Harper. Running out ground balls? Beneath him. One of the low points of the Nationals franchise is when then-closer Jonathan Papelbon literally went for Harper’s throat in the dugout after such an incident. Papelbon’s attack was indefensible, but his frustration was understandable. People often forget Harper once publicly complained about his place in the lineup because he thought he was being disrespected. Last June, while the Washington Capitals were competing for their first Stanley Cup against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the Nats went all in on the Caps. They wore the team’s hats, they taunted the city of Pittsburgh and Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman led customary fan chants at Capital One Arena during the Stanley Cup Final, in full Caps garb. Where was Harper? Ever the self-centered free agent, he was alone with his wife in a box wearing a Vegas jersey, looking dejected after the Caps rocked his hometown team en route to a title.
So why am I thrilled as opposed to ambivalent about Harper’s departure? The contract. The Phillies are stuck with him for the foreseeable future. As I have established, he’s not that good. He’s certainly not worth the money and conditions Philadelphia gave him. When the Phillies desperately need to sign an urgently-needed free agent, the overrated primadonna is going to be sucking up all of their spare cash, with no exit strategy, while the roster ossifies. Raise a glass to that, Nats Nation.
At the end of the day, the Nationals didn’t really need Harper. Their new outfield — Adam Eaton, Juan Soto and Victor Robles — is elite and better than it was with the former No. 34. What’s more, they have the financial flexibility to extend players who are much more important to their success — most notably third baseman Anthony Rendon — in the future. That fact alone makes the Nats look like winners of this situation. With regards to Harper, D.C. shouldn’t cry because it’s over, they should celebrate because he’s gone.