Kudos to the Washingtion Nationals for not making the panic move.
It’s not a question of if Bryce Harper will become an all-star outfielder for the Washington Nationals, it’s a matter of when it actually happens. The Nationals made the smart move today by optioning Harper down to Triple-A Syracuse. With a .300 batting average, he has hit pretty well during Spring Training, but only one of his hits has been for extra bases. And after striking out four times today, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Financially, this is the smart move. I’m not totally sure how much money Harper will make in his arbitration years based on the contract he signed. but this will delay his Super-2 status.
The fact of the matter is, Harper is only 19-years old. Considering he’s up in Triple-A at 19 is progress in itself. Most 19-year baseball players are in Rookie Ball or Low-A ball, not on the fringe of the Major Leagues.
The Nationals will use someone out of Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel, Jason Michaels, or Brett Carroll for their third starting outfielder, with Michael Morse and Jayson Werth on the corners (assuming Werth will go back to RF with Harper in Triple-A).
It’s hard to judge the impact this move will have on the Nationals. No one could possibly know how well Harper would play in the big leagues this season. I had Harper at 2.2 WAR, which is slighlty above average. Between the four guys listed above, the Nationals probably won’t even earn a win, hurting their playoff chances.
Needless to say, the Nationals will be in the market for a short-term centerfield option. Earlier this winter, Alex Rios was linked to the Nationals, and it wouldn’t be surprising if those rumors resurfaced. Granted, Rios was absolutely terrible last season, but he is capable of putting up a 3-win season if (big if) he’s motivated.
It’s possible we could see Harper after June. It all depends how desperate the Nationals are, or how bad their third outfielder production is, but that would keep Harper away from the ever so important Super-2.
To recap, the Nationals are making the right decision. There is no reason to give him service time when he hasn’t fully developed. Have him under team control when he has an OPS over .900 – not .730.