Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote a column saying losing Harper "would help any team improve its attention to fundamentals." A "prominent Nats vet" agreed with the sentiment, telling Boswell to "write it."
Manager Dave Martinez has also said the team will have an increased emphasis on fundamentals this season.
"We're going to be more proactive on fundamentals," Martinez said this week. "There will be days when they don't bring their bats to the field. It will all be team defense, base running and fundamentals. They can still hit in the cage."
Harper remains a free agent despite being one of the best players to hit the open market in recent memory. He is a six-time All-Star and won the 2015 NL MVP award, and he does not even turn 27 until October. The continued free agency of Harper and Manny Machado have led to some openly criticizing MLB ownership.
"Teams go to the media and say they don't want you. . . . [To kill interest] they discuss not wanting players," Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer said, per Boswell. "We know every intention of every single team."
"It should not be happening. No other sport has this in their free agency."
It's hard to argue that any team would be better without Harper. He has posted 3.0 or more WAR in six of his seven seasons, per FanGraphs, and that number has been above 4.0 four times. Even if you acknowledge he's not the player who won the 2015 MVP—that season looks like a clear outlier—he's an extremely valuable player with a ton of pop and one of the best eyes in baseball in the batter's box.
Whatever warranted criticisms of Harper's occasionally lax fundamentals exist, the Nationals are not going to be a better team without him. Hustle alone does not account for everything Harper brings to the table.