WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Bryce Harper is gone from the Nationals to the Phillies after agreeing to a record 13-year, $330 million contract.
But he’s is still a looming presence in Washington’s clubhouse as the team begins to move on without the star who played with them since 2012 at just 19.
“He used to be right here,” third baseman Anthony Rendon said motioning to Harper’s old locker Friday morning. “And all you guys used to be in this corner all the time when he was here. And now even though he’s not here y’all are still in this corner.”
And so it went with much of the talk in Washington’s clubhouse centering around the six-time All-Star and 2015 National League MVP, who had long been a face of the franchise.
While it had been less than 24 hours since Harper had agreed to the deal, the Nationals had known for quite some time that he wouldn’t be wearing their uniform this season. And manager Dave Martinez acknowledged that being without him this spring training has taken some getting used to.
“It’s been a little different,” he said. “I’ve had a really good relationship with Harp and we talked all the time. So in that aspect it is different especially for me.”
No one tried to pretend like his departure wasn’t a big deal. They just choose to look ahead instead of lamenting what they lost.
“Our focus is on us and what we need to do,” Martinez said. “I said that coming into spring training. Regardless of what happens with Harp, I’ve got to focus on the 58 guys we have in camp and get ready for the season.”
Outfielder Adam Eaton knows everyone is wondering how this team will deal with the loss of Harper and fare without him. He said there will be no big talks or grand proclamations in the wake of the change. It will just be business as usual.
“Just being a professional,” he said. “Everybody’s got to consider that. When you come into camp the guys that are surrounding you and the guys that are in the seats in the clubhouse, just play with them and get better with them.”
They won’t have a lot of time to miss him. The first two of 19 regular season games against Philadelphia are scheduled for April 2-3 in Washington, which is the team’s second series of the year.
“It’s kind of tough that he’s going to an NL East team but we’ll get to see more of him,” Eaton said. “He’s had his part in putting the Nationals where they are and to be able to see him is kind of cool.”
Teammate Trea Turner is bracing for what it will be like when he first sees Harper in his Phillies uniform and noted how strange it was to see Andrew McCutchen don another teams colors last season after nine seasons with the Pirates.
“You see Andrew McCutchen leave Pittsburgh, it was weird,” he said of Harper’s new teammate. “It’s definitely going to be weird. He’s been here for a long time and making the change over there is definitely going to be different, especially in the division. But it’s going to be interesting when we see him over there.”
Eaton agreed and said it won’t only be the Nationals and their supporters that will have to adjust to Harper playing in Philadelphia.
“This is not just for Nationals fans. I don’t care if you’re a Cubs fan or a Padres fan or a Seattle fan, seeing Bryce Harper in a different jersey will be different,” he said.
The Nationals, who made the postseason in four of Harper’s seven seasons, believe they have another good team this year and like the challenge they’ll face within a division they believe has improved from top to bottom — not just in Philadelphia.
“For me every team’s gotten better,” Martinez said. “If you look on paper at what everybody’s done, our division is going to be really, really strong.”
That, they say is another reason why they can’t spend time worrying about Harper’s departure and need to move forward.
“Our focus is on the here and now and trying to win our day,” Martinez said.