DENVER, CO - JUNE 28: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals makes a leaping catch for the third out of the eighth inning on a line drive off the bat of Wil Nieves of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on June 28, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Nationals 11-10 in 11 innings. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
It's almost that time of year again. Almost July. Just weeks away from the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline. The biggest question this year might be how comfortable the Washington Nationals are with Bryce Harper in center field? Not everyone seems to agree about what the Nats think of their 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick's work in center. Back on May 25th, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote that CF remains a position of need for the NL East's top team. The reason the Nationals continued to get mentioned in connection, "... to any and all potentially available center fielders," according to the scout the writer talked with for his "Rumblings and Grumblings" column at the time was, "... that the Bryce Harper center-field experiment hasn't gone so well,":
"Harper has started fewer games in center (six) than he's started at either of the other two outfield spots. And one scout who spoke with the Nationals brass says the club has already concluded that Harper isn't going to be The Answer in center -- 'even short-term.'"
Of course, in 29 starts over 30 games since that article was published (5/25), Harper's started 21 games in center. Still, CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler (@DKnobler) wrote on Twitter this week that the Nats are, "... still telling teams they want to find a long-term answer in CF."
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal in a section of a June 18th article subtitled, "Nationals: The Evolution Continues", wrote that, "The Nationals’ biggest need remains in center field, and their No. 1 target in free agency is likely to be – surprise! – the Braves’ Michael Bourn," who is a Scott Boras client and could give the Nationals a Bryce Harper, Bourn, Jayson Werth outfield in the future with Morse moving to first if (and there are a lot ifs involved in the article) the Nationals don't pick up Adam LaRoche's option after this season.
When Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak examined the center field situation recently in an article entitled, "As the trade deadline approaches, why center field might not be at the top of the Nationals' needs list any longer", the Washington Times' reporter wrote that the Nationals think Harper, "... can handle center field -- and can handle it long enough until one of the top outfield prospects they already have in the organization is ready to assume it," even if it takes a few more years for a Michael Taylor, Eury Perez, Destin Hood or Brian Goodwin to develop. The Times' Ms. Comak doesn't completely dismiss the idea of the Nationals looking for a CF, however, noting Mr. Rosenthal's report and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo's oft-stated opinion that the team will consider any, "... move that works well for them in the long- and short-term."
It's not surprising then that there was at least one report, by ESPN1500's Phil Mackey, out of Minnesota this week that said the Nationals were in attendance to watch the Twins with the writer assuming the Nats were there to watch Denard Span, whose name has been tied to Washington's search for a center fielder since last year. At the deadline last July, a concussion which limited Span's playing time was a big question mark for any interested teams. In his 5th MLB season, the 28-year-old Span has a .277/.341/.396 line with 20 doubles and three home runs in in 69 games and 307 plate appearances.
Are the Nationals happy with Harper in center? Still in the market? Willing to wait to see who is available in free agency? There is a month of speculation on the subject coming...