No one knows why Andre Ethier is playing center field tonight

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I wondered yesterday why manager Charlie Manuel would choose to start Andre Ethier in center field for tonight’s All-Star game despite his having zero experience there in the majors, particularly since NL right fielder Corey Hart has actually played several hundred innings as a big-league center fielder.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wondered the same thing and he actually asked both Ethier and Manuel about it. Turns out, neither of them really knows either.
First, here’s Ethier:

Wow. Center field? Am I playing center field? I heard rumors. I don’t even know the lineup. Last time I played center field would have to have been … in college, 2003. Hopefully, [Dodgers manager] Joe [Torre] doesn’t get any crazy ideas.

Now here’s Manuel (yes, Craig already highlighted this quote, but it’s clearly amazing enough to do twice)

The reason he’s playing center field is because when we did the fan voting and the player voting, we, uh, Hart had the … he was ahead of the outfielders. He has to start. He was supposed to start the game, and Ethier’s the one I chose to play center field because I remember he played there a lot. We do not have what they call a true center fielder right now. We have some on our roster … at the same time … that was the reason why he started in center field.

(Ethier’s teammate Rafael Furcal also had a great reaction to the news: “Oh, really? Oh my god.”)
I don’t want to be too hard on Manuel here, because he’s not the world’s most articulate public speaker and ultimately it doesn’t really matter, but as Hernandez pointed out that explanation makes zero sense. In fact, it’s backwards. Manuel says he chose Ethier to start in center field “because I remember he played there a lot.” In reality he’s never played there and Hart is the one who was a regular center fielder as recently as 2007.
Just something to remember the next time you assume the people involved put a lot of thought into these types of things.

Bryce Harper will not be discussing his impending free agency with the media

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Bryce Harper is entering his walk year and it is widely expected that the Scott Boras client will, indeed, test out free agency next fall rather than engage in any substantial way with the Washington Nationals about a contract extension. There were some “casual conversations” between the parties in the early fall of 2017, but the Nats came away from that, quite reasonably, believing that Harper, who stands to land the largest contract in baseball history, will shop around.

For his part, Harper met the media on his first day of spring training workouts and let everyone know that, no, he does not plan to answer questions about his potential free agency every day between now and November. From MASN:

“Just want to let you guys know I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019, at all,” said Harper. “I’m focused on this year. I’m focused on winning and playing hard, like every single year. So if you guys have any questions about anything after 2018, you can call Scott and he can answer you guys.”

Makes sense. The alternative would be for Harper to give the same canned “I’m only focused on our next game” responses in front of his locker 150 times this summer, and that doesn’t serve anyone.

Thinking back to any other impending free agent’s comments about his free agency, I can’t remember a story along those lines which was worth much of anything. The genre generally consists of headlines which oversell an innocuous or offhand comment from a player as a means of guessing where his head is at with respect to his current team. I can’t think of any story in which a player, during his walk year, said something that concretely and definitively signaled his intensions in free agency one way or the other.

Reporters covering the Nationals who are curious as to how Harper feels about his current team at any given time would be better served just observing and inferring, with particular attention paid to how Harper and his teammates view the Nats’ competitive position as the season goes on, how they react to trades and stuff like that. There’s a lot of guesswork in all of that, but it sure beats trying to get a media savvy player like Harper to admit, after going 1-for-4 against the Phillies, where he plans to spend the next seven to ten years of his professional life.