Manager Matt Williams put on his happy face Tuesday, denying he had a rift with Bryce Harper, telling reporters, “I’ve got Bryce’s back in every way.” It was an interesting reaction, to say the least, considering that 24 hours before, Harper gave an interview in which he all but told Williams how to do his job.
Williams, in his first year managing, is in a difficult if not impossible position. He needs to win over Harper, who, when healthy, is the Nationals’ most dynamic player. But Williams also needs to win over his other veterans, some of whom resent that Harper is the most famous and popular Nat even though he has yet to play 140 games in a season and is still only 21.
What does Williams tell those veterans, who mostly play and hit where they are told, and are certainly more discreet than Harper when they object to the manager’s decisions?
What does he tell center fielder Denard Span, who would be the odd man out in Harper’s suggested lineup, which includes Ryan Zimmerman in left field, Anthony Rendon at third base, Danny Espinosa at second and — ahem — Harper in center?
The challenge for Williams is not as pronounced as, “Lose Harper, or lose everyone else” — at least not yet. But the friction is real. If perceived slights translated into wins, the Nats would run away with the NL East.
...They could trade or bench Span, who has improved his on-base percentage from .305 to .317 in the past two weeks. But many would interpret either move as a capitulation to Harper, potentially sparking greater clubhouse tension. Span does not throw as well as Harper, but both players and club officials view him as the team’s best defensive center fielder.
What about trading Harper? The idea is not as preposterous as it might sound. Harper would command a haul. He is represented by Scott Boras, meaning that the Nationals cannot expect to extend him before free agency. And the Nats have two promising young outfielders who are nearly major-league ready, Steven Souza and Michael Taylor.
Ownership probably would balk at the idea; Harper is the franchise’s meal ticket. Then again, if Harper is the center of the Nats’ universe, the team might as well go all-in. Play him in center. Stop worrying about Span. And don’t worry about anyone else’s feelings getting hurt.
Things will work themselves out, right?
Thanks to DK.
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