If the Nationals can't re-sign Bryce Harper, don't expect them to go searching for a high-priced free agent like Michael Brantley to replace him.
(A note: This is still an if! We haven't closed the door on Harper staying in DC.)
The Nationals already have a promising in-house solution if Harper walks: Victor Robles.
Robles is currently rated as the fourth-best prospect in baseball, according to MLBpipeline.com. Robles has played 34 games for the Nationals over the last two season including 21 in 2018. His slash line this September was .288/.348/.525 with three doubles, three home runs, a triple, and 10 RBI.
Of course there's upsides to known quantities like Brantley - even if he comes with injury concerns: He hit .309 last year with 17 home runs and 76 RBI last season. In 2014, he finished third in American League MVP voting. He had a slash line of .307/.385/.506 with 45 doubles, 20 home runs, and 97 RBI. The following season, Brantley led the Majors with 45 doubles.
If you can't stand batters that strike out, Brantley is the guy for you.
In 613 plate appearances in 2018, Brantley struck out just 60 times. His 9.5 strikeouts per 100 at bats was tied for second-best in the MLB. By comparison, Harper's strikeout ratio in 2018 was 24.3%. As a team, the Nationals finished tied for sixth in fewest strikeouts per game (7.96). Additionally, Brantley led qualified hitters in contact rate (90.9 percent) and swinging-strike rate (4.0 percent) in 2018.
But even with all that, there's some question marks here if the Nats opt to swap Harper for a slightly lower-priced free agent: Brantley is a left fielder.
Over his career, Brantley has spent some time in center field but has not played there since 2015. What would the Nationals outfield alignment look like if they signed Brantley?
Of the 112 games Juan Soto started with the Nationals this past season, all 112 were in left field. Adam Eaton's strongest defensive position is right field. The likely answer would be move Soto to right field (where he played in the minors), Eaton to center, and keep Brantley in left field. Eaton was the Nationals' Opening Day centerfielder in 2017.
So while a team like the Phillies may be looking to spend the money on an outfielder like Brantley, if Harper doesn't return, don't expect the Nationals to enter the market.
At least not while their prospects look so promising.
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