It was reported on Monday that Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will be out until at least July after undergoing surgery on a broken thumb. Harper last played on April 25 in a game against the San Diego Padres, the same game in which he injured the thumb sliding into third base. He was hitting .289 with a home run, nine RBI, four doubles and eight walks.
With starting catcher Wilson Ramos, starting third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Doug Fister already on the shelf, the injury certainly isn't welcome news to Nationals fans, but the news also shouldn't come as nearly as much of a scare as some Nats fans are taking it.
Yes, Bryce Harper brings as much energy to a lineup as almost anyone in baseball. However, in terms of "replaceability," the Nationals aren't losing as much as it seems at face value.
While Harper's energy and power potential (key word being "potential"; he's hit just one home run this year) will be missed, the Nationals aren't short of potential replacements for the time being.
In the Nationals' first four games without Harper, Kevin Frandsen has gotten three starts and has gone 4-for-10 with three runs scored. Frandsen's name may not stand out to casual fans, but he's hit .265 this year with the Nationals, and is a season removed from hitting .338 in 55 games with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Frandsen is an infielder (primarily second and third base) by trade, but because of the emergence of Danny Espinosa at second base, Anthony Rendon has been able to fill in for the injured Ryan Zimmerman at third, allowing Frandsen to see time in left.
If Frandsen begins to struggle, the Nationals also have offseason signee Nate McLouth and recent call-up Steven Souza Jr. to turn to.
McLouth spent the 2013 season across the beltway with the Baltimore Orioles, stealing 30 bases and drawing 53 walks out of the leadoff spot. While his .258 batting average is lower than what the Nationals would probably desire from him as a starter, he could serve as another option in the leadoff spot if Span continues to struggle. (He has posted a .222 average this season.)
With his $4 million salary, McLouth would likely get the nod over Souza, however, the rookie wouldn't be a bad replacement option either.
Souza made his first career major league start for the Nationals on Wednesday, perhaps suggesting that he's in the running to be Harper's replacement. In 2013, Souza hit .300 with 15 home runs, 46 RBI and 20 stolen bases, so if he could produce similar numbers as a big leaguer, he would actually provide the Nationals with the most Harper-like replacement as a well-rounded option in left.
Souza has never played a professional game in left, however, he played 159 combined games in right and center field, so he's certainly no stranger to the outfield.
Losing Bryce Harper for two-plus months is not something the Nationals should take lightly, however, they and their fans alike can take comfort in knowing that manager Matt Williams has a plethora of quality options to turn to in Harper's absence.
And with Ramos, Fister and Zimmerman all set to return before Harper's July recovery timetable, the current roster will be receiving multiple reinforcements before the summer.