Bryce Harper wasn’t falling into a Yankees trap
WASHINGTON — At least he didn’t walk right out the door.
At the start of spring training this year, that was Bryce Harper’s plan for how to deal with questions about his impending free agency. He told reporters to talk to his agent, Scott Boras, because his focus was only on this season and not anything beyond it.
Of course, as the Nationals played host to the Yankees on Tuesday to begin a two-game series, the idea of Harper in pinstripes came back into focus. The 25-year-old grew up a Yankees fan while idolizing Mickey Mantle, and even before he began to play out the final year of his contract this season, many had The Bronx booked as his next stop.
But as Harper answered questions about his future Tuesday afternoon at Nationals Park, all of his answers not-so-surprisingly focused on his present.
“I’m a National now,” Harper said. “We’re going into this series trying to win some ballgames. It’s the only thing on my mind, trying to beat a good team over there.”
Harper was not interested in discussing his past Yankees fandom, or how those past affinities affect him when he plays against Mantle’s old team. The most he would say about the Yankees was to acknowledge they have “one of the best lineups in all of baseball.”
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Harper said. “If it’s the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies, name it. It doesn’t really matter the team or the atmosphere, just try to go in there and win ballgames.”
It was an interesting list of teams for Harper to reel off — all four of them potential suitors for his services during the highly anticipated offseason to come.
Still, Harper had his mind on the Nationals. They arrived back home Monday having won seven of their previous eight and 13-of-15 since starting the season 11-16. Harper has shouldered an even heavier load early on as the Nationals try to manage a disabled list that currently includes Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, Matt Wieters and Ryan Zimmerman — leading to his crack two weeks ago that the Nationals were “13-16 with the Syracuse SkyChiefs,” referring to the organization’s Triple-A club.
Harper entered Tuesday batting just .236 — well below his career mark of .282 — but his 13 home runs put him on pace to set a new career high, and if he has let the distractions of a walk year affect him at all, he’s hid it well.
“He’s been great,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “He never talks about anything. All he talks about is helping us win on a daily basis. He’s done awesome. He’s a National. That’s the way he views it and I’m really proud of him.”
Whether or not Harper would want to be a Yankee, there’s a whole other question about how they would fit him in after acquiring Giancarlo Stanton in December. Then again, these are the Yankees.
“We’re the New York Yankees; I know the Steinbrenner family on down to Brian Cashman, we’re never going to be bashful about trying to make our team the best,” manager Aaron Boone said, speaking in general terms and not about Harper. “… We’re always going to be aggressive and feel like in a position to be able to do things that give us a chance to be a great club.”