WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When it comes to filling big shoes, Matt Adams has nothing on Babe Dahlgren and Ryan Minor.
Dahlgren is the man who replaced Lou Gehrig in the New York Yankees' lineup the day that the Iron Horse's consecutive-games streak ended. Nearly 60 years later, Minor is the one who stepped in for Cal Ripken Jr. Two decades after that, Adams is the answer to this trivia question: Who moved into Bryce Harper's locker?
Last year, Adams' first in Washington, his cubby was just around the corner from Harper's in the Nationals' oval-shaped spring training clubhouse. This year, when the veteran slugger reported to camp after signing a one-year free-agent deal to remain with the Nats, he found his jersey hanging in Harper's old spot. For what it's worth, he isn't losing any sleep over the relocation.
"I respect the guy and everything, but to me it's just a locker," Adams said. "If I'm getting caught up in whose locker I'm in, then my mind's not in the right spot."
The same goes for Adam Eaton, who's expected to take over the full-time right-field gig that belonged to Harper for the better part of the past seven years. "I played the position last year. I played it before he was born," joked Eaton, who's four years older than Harper but made his big league debut in 2012, the same year that Harper won the National League Rookie of the Year.
Of the 603 games that Eaton has played in his career, almost a third of them have come in right field. That includes 113 games with the White Sox in 2016, when Eaton saved more runs in right field (22) than anyone not named Mookie Betts. It also includes 65 contests last season, when Harper was busy moonlighting in center field. As you might expect, Eaton isn't the least bit concerned with following in the former MVP's footsteps.
"The media puts a lot of emphasis on it, but we're professionals," Eaton said. "We've just got to go out there and play. If George Herman Ruth was here and he left, we'd be like, 'That's cool. He was here, now he's gone.' Everyone's on the same page."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that everyone has seemingly been talking about Harper's potential exodus from Washington since ... well, since Washington himself was in the White House. In other words, the Nationals have had more than enough time to prepare themselves for the possibility of Harper taking free-agent flight. And it shows.
"Knew it was a possibility. We knew that last year," said ace Max Scherzer, who knows a thing or two about high-profile free agents switching teams. In 2015, Scherzer came to Washington on a seven-year, $210 million deal, after having spent the previous five seasons in Detroit. Four years later, he's completely matter-of-fact about the prospect of life after Harper. "Look, teams change. It's part of the thing."
The thing that Scherzer refers to is the business of sports. And like any business -- whether it's banking, building or baseball -- the bottom line is the loudest line. That's why, when the Nationals signed hurler Patrick Corbin to a splashy six-year, $140 million contract in December, the writing was on the wall. And what the wall said was this: The odds of the Nationals -- who were above the luxury tax last season and still have to think long and hard about shelling out serious cash to give third baseman Anthony Rendon a contract extension sometime in the very near future -- retaining Bryce Harper just shrunk faster than a slice of bacon sizzling on a hot skillet.
Does that mean the Nationals won't re-sign Harper? Not necessarily. Now that Manny Machado is finally off the board and $300 million richer, is there any chance that his free-agent foil doesn't end up in a Phillies (or some other) uniform, owner of a contract that's decidedly larger than the $300 million one that Washington supposedly offered Harper at the end of last season? Sure, there's a chance. But for now, Everyone -- with a capital E -- in the Nats organization seems more than prepared to move ahead without him. More than prepared to get on with the business of baseball.
"Would I love for him to be here? Of course," said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who's spent his entire 14-year career in Washington and played alongside Harper longer than any other current member of the Nationals, and whose spring training locker is right next to Adams' cubby. "But we all understand the business and the economics. That's just how it works. You get so used to the shuffling in and out of players. You get used to learning how to deal with it."
But what if Harper winds up with a division rival like Philly? What if, over the course of the next 10 years, the Nationals have to face their former franchise face 180 times during the regular season?
"It doesn't bother me wherever he goes," Zimmerman said. "He's earned the right to do that. Will it be weird playing against him? Of course. But we've all played against people that we've been teammates with. I just hope he gets what he deserves. He's done some pretty special stuff at a young age. He should get rewarded for it."
That last part, the part about getting rewarded and getting what he deserves, is a common theme. To a man, pretty much every single player inside the Nationals clubhouse seems to genuinely want Harper to get what's his. Because they know that if and when the time comes for them to hit free agency, they'll do everything in their power to get what's theirs. They're all together on this. After all, the players' union isn't called a union for nothing. As a result, everyone seems to be pulling for Harper to cash in, regardless of which front office is handing out that cash.
That even goes for Nationals pitcher Erick Fedde, who grew up with Harper in Las Vegas and has known him since T-ball: "It's a presence you'll miss in the clubhouse, but baseball's taught you to accept that sometimes you're going to lose friends." Fedde admits that ever since the end of last season, anyone and everyone has been asking him where Harper is going to sign. His answer? "I don't know. But I hope it's whatever's best for him."
What's best for the Nationals right now -- and they're more than happy to tell you this -- is worrying about the guys who are in West Palm Beach instead of The Guy who isn't.
"We're going to talk about the players that we have here on the team," said GM Mike Rizzo, when asked about Harper a few days into spring training. "We're not going to talk about the players that we don't have on the team. We've got a roster that we like, and we're poised to start the season as is because we really like the team that we have."
Added manager Davey Martinez: "I can't really think about the free agents. I've got 58 guys in camp. ... We're going to focus on the guys we have today and get them ready to play."
In the meantime, it's worth noting that not all uniform numbers have been treated equally within the Nationals clubhouse. While the numbers of several prominent but now departed members of last year's team have been redistributed -- reliever Kyle Barraclough is wearing Daniel Murphy's old No. 20, and Gio Gonzalez's 47 now belongs to Howie Kendrick -- the No. 34 is currently not in circulation. Maybe that's just a coincidence. Then again, maybe it's not.
Maybe the Nationals are intentionally "resting" Harper's digits, the same way they rested Jayson Werth's No. 28 for a year before handing it out this season.
You know, just in case he comes back.