For all the talk of Bryce Harper as he rose through the ranks of the games elite one narrative hasn’t been spoken enough.
Bryce Harper: irreplaceable.
I’ve written before (just earlier today, actually) about how some players have franchise altering ability. Harper doesn’t just have the ability to alter the franchise, Harper can literally change the landscape of the National League. He missed 44 games last season due to injury and the Nationals lost the East by 10 games (the Wild Card by four), I don’t want to make too many assumptions but I would be hard pressed to believe a player worth about 4.5 WAR in his first two seasons in the bigs couldn’t have made an impact enough to help the Nationals get one of those final two Wild Card spots.
His splits in 2013 were about even except he became a better hitter for average in the second half of the season. His numbers, while solid, won’t jump off the page either. But take into account that he’s just turning 21 and that his bat in the middle of that lineup makes all the difference. While Werth, LaRoche, Zimmerman, and Desmond are good, Harper takes those pieces to a whole new level. He needs to stay healthy in order for the Nationals to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
It may seem unfair to say the Nationals hopes rest on the (huge) shoulders of a 21-year old entering his third year, but Harper isn’t just any third year player for them. They were 3-7 in games he missed in May; and when he missed the month of June they were a .500 ball club without him. He tried to play through the injuries in July and they fared even worse, but some semblance of health in August and September had the Nationals going 34-20 to finish the season.
He’s put in a lot of work this offseason to avoid extended stints on the disabled list. A new manager in Williams will no doubt teach him the importance of playing hard but smart. No one can ever question the effort of Harper but he needs to avoid moments like these in order to better take care of himself over the course of a 162-game season. If he can, the Nationals will merit that preseason buzz they’ve garnered this offseason. If he does miss any extended time, the conversation will quickly circle back to one like this.