Brisbee: Washington baseball finally has hope, with or without Bryce Harper

From SABR member Grant Brisbee at SB Nation on July 19, 2018:

You could feel it in Nationals Park this week, this tension surrounding the future of Bryce Harper. The cheers for the 2018 Home Run Derby were a little more urgent, a little more resigned than they might have otherwise have been.

Harper might leave the Nationals forever. He also might not leave, and build a Hall of Fame career with the Nationals over the next decade. Or he might take $400 million of the franchise’s money and give them 10 injury-marred seasons in exchange. Still, there’s a good chance that he goes away and doesn’t come back.

The Nationals won’t fold the entire franchise if Harper leaves. Life would go on, and considering the team is struggling to stay over .500 this season (with Harper hitting .214 and playing rough defense), it’s possible that they might even get better.

There would be symbolic ramifications of a Harper departure, though. The Nationals are currently in the middle or at the tail end of one of the most engaging, electric periods in the history of Washington baseball. Other than the Walter Johnson era, which ended nearly 100 years ago, it might be one of the only engaging and electric periods in the history of Washington baseball. The baseball gods gave the Nationals the gift of an all-time talent, and it’s possible that they’ll have turned him into four NL East titles, four crushing losses in the first round of the postseason, an MVP, one of the most exciting Home Run Derbies in history, and a sack filled with memories.

It’s possible they won’t have used Harper to finish their ultimate project, their most important in the century-plus of Washington baseball. Harper might leave before the Nationals create an identity that’s different from the current one, which is the sneaky-sad team from the crushingly sad baseball town.

Escaping that identity is something that Washington baseball has been trying to do for the last century or so.

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Originally published: July 19, 2018. Last Updated: July 19, 2018.