Bryce Harper finally returned to the Washington Nationals lineup on Monday night, as he made himself heard both on and off of the field. Harper was able to finish the night 1-3 while driving in a run, but most of the attention has been directed toward the comments he made regarding his preferences for the lineup.
Having Harper back in the lineup is certainly a benefit for the Nats, but I’m sure Manager Matt Williams would agree that it does the organization no good for Harper to make his lineup preferences public. Recently, Harper stated, “I think [Zimmerman] is great and he should be playing left. Rendon’s a great third baseman and he should be playing third. And we got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa”. According to this scenario, Washington would be forced to move Center Fielder Denard Span to the bench.
Though Harper may love an opportunity to play Center Field, moving Span to the bench could only damage the Nationals’ offense. Span’s replacement, in theory, would be Espinosa who has posted a putrid slash line of .217/.284/.348. These numbers prove that calling Espinosa one of the best second basemen in the league is a clear overstatement.
It would be nothing short of idiotic for Span to be summoned to the bench upon Harper’s return. Denard Span not only leads the team in stolen bases, but his speed allows him to cover ground in the outfield that an outfield without him could not.
Span has a valuable place in the Nationals’ lineup, but it may not be as a leadoff hitter. Swapping Espinosa in for Span would not improve the Nationals’ lineup, but moving Span back in the order could. Span’s .312 OBP ranks fifth lowest among the 23 leadoff hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, so its safe to assume someone with a higher OBP could produce the Nats more runs.
Will Harper’s comment cause a rift between players and the manager? Probably not. Both Harper and Williams have confirmed that the two share no hard feelings, and that Williams is more than happy to write Harper’s name in the lineup each day. However, in the future, Harper should remember he is under contract to play, not to write the lineup card.