Bryce Harper’s free agency destination, as of Monday morning, remains unknown, after a weekend of reports that Harper was “close” to a deal, or that talks were “intensifying” with the player with one team or another.
But what of Harper’s previous team, the Washington Nationals?
The Nationals have not been reported to have much of a chance to keep their star free agent player, and Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell filed a column from the Nationals’ spring training complex in Florida over the weekend in which he examined what a post-Harper Nationals team might look like.
Boswell’s column points out the new players the Nationals have added, including top pitcher Patrick Corbin, relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, and second baseman Brian Dozier, who is seen as a potential team leader. But lower down in the column, Boswell takes a shot at Harper, arguing that the departure of the star player “would help any team improve its attention to fundamentals.”
“When the most famous player on the team can’t go 10 days without failing to run out a groundball or overthrowing a cutoff man by 15 feet or throwing to the wrong base or being caught unprepared in the outfield or on the bases, it’s hard to demand total alertness from the other 24,” Boswell writes.
The columnist does not attribute this sentiment, in their own words, to any Nationals player or employee, and even begins by saying “while few mention it.” He does follow that paragraph with a two-word statement from an unnamed, yet prominent Nationals veteran – “Write it.”
Boswell goes on to lament the team’s lack of leadership in recent seasons, implicitly knocking Harper for failing to step up in that manner, and wishing that some of the newer players might do so this season.
My col: After impressive winter revamp in face of major free agent loses, Nats focus on basics they never should've neglected: pitching, defense, fundamentals, accountability, vet leaders. Can culture compensate for clout? https://t.co/enUroSSxDp— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) February 16, 2019
It’s not exactly a rare occasion for a local paper to run anonymous criticism of a star player or coach, implicitly sourced from the team, when he’s on his way out of town. The Boston Red Sox, in recent years, have been notorious for launching smear campaigns of that nature, most notoriously (per ESPN) when the Boston Globe reported on former manager Terry Francona’s marital and drug problems shortly after he left the team in 2011.
It is strange and rather unusual, however, for this sentiment to be placed in the mouth of a columnist, with no quotes from any players other than one telling the columnist to write the column.
Boswell has also been critical of Harper in the past, going back as far as a Washington Post column in 2014.