Nats Braced For Success Without Bryce
Washington Is All About History, So Nats Should Feel Good About 2019 Season
Many fans have written off the Nationals, given the likely departure of All-Star free agent Bryce Harper. Although the former Most Valuable Player had not yet signed with anyone at the end of February, it has been assumed that he will not be in Washington's lineup come Opening Day.
While the absence of a star such as Harper might portend trouble for the Nationals this season, the team should still be the favorite to win the National League East division. According to Mike Lupica in a column at MLB.com on February 25, 2019, Washington should in fact see an increase wins.
Lupica recalls a similar experience wth a superstar free agent almost two decades ago, when Alex Rodriguez was leaving the Mariners. He and agent Scott Boras, who happens to also represent Harper, broke a record when Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers for $252 million.
Rather than devastate the Mariners, the departure of Rodriguez had the opposite effect. The Mariners in 2001 managed to accumulate a record setting 116 regular-season victories, making it all the way to the American League Championship Series before losing to the New York Yankees.
"Would the Mariners have won even more than 116 with A-Rod, and gone on to win the World Series?" Lupica asks in the column. "We’ll never know. But sometimes the math can be crazy in baseball, and subtraction can turn into addition."
Around that same time the Oakland Athletics, just like the Mariners, did indeed turn subtraction into additional wins. All-Star slugger Jason Giambi inked a free agent deal with the Yankees, leaving behind an Athletics club that had finished in second place in the AL West in 2001. Without Giambi in the middle of the order, Oakland went on to become division champions by winning 103 games the very next season.
A more recent example reinforces the reality of addition by subtraction, when you consider the St. Louis Cardinals after departure of perennial M.V.P. Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels in 2011. The Cards had only two fewer wins their first season without Pujols, and then in 2013 they won seven more games than they had during his last year on their way to winning the NL pennant.
It could be easily argued that the Nationals have an even better chance of improving their record without Harper, for they have a much better starting rotation than did the past examples of the Cardinals or the Mariners or the A's. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strassburg are two of the elite pitchers in all of baseball, and Washing just added All-Star Patrick Corbin over the winter.
Offensively, the Nationals will have no trouble replacing Harper in the lineup, since he hit just .247 last year and a mere .227 in 2017. Former center fielder Adam Eaton is not only a defensive upgrade, but he hit .301 last year.
The Nationals can also look forward to a full season from outfielder Juan Soto, who after a promotion in May went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award as a nineteen year old. Also added to the lineup over the winter was Brian Dozier, a second baseman with enough power to replace the 34 home runs Harper hit last year.
East Division rivals in New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia have added some talent to their rosters, further relegating Washington to underdog status. The Mets traded for All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, the Braves added former MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson, and the Phillies acquired talented catcher J.T. Realmuto.
These acquisitions will make it tougher for the Nationals, as they embark on their first season without the services of Bryce Harper. What they have going for them is their stellar rotation, a young superstar in Juan Soto and, more important, the history of teams winning championships after the departure of a star to free agency.