Washington Nationals: Was it the right decision to hold onto Bryce Harper?

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 08: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 08: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

A lot has been made of the reported trades the Washington Nationals turned down for Bryce Harper, but was it the correct decision to do so?

Recently, a pair of different stories emerged around trade proposals the Washington Nationals received for Bryce Harper during the season. We take a look at each trade proposal and decide whether it was worth holding onto the superstar.

Obviously, with the superstar outfielder out of contract and the team far from in an ideal position competitively at the time, it was worth considering their options. Now, recent reports indicate the team had at least two trade proposals for the outfielder, one at the non-waiver trade deadline, and one in mid-August.

The first proposal came from the Houston Astros in July, as they looked to bolster their outfield. Then the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed Harper on waivers in August, before the Nats pulled him back.

Obviously, the thinking behind this is that the team would stand a better chance of re-signing Harper having kept him. So let’s take a look at the two offers and see whether the team made the right decision to keep Bryce Harper.

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Dodgers Proposal

Let’s start off with the Dodgers offer first. Former Nats beat writer, and current LA Times reporter Jorge Castillo reported last Wednesday that the Dodgers offered outfielder Yasiel Puig in a potential trade for Harper. However, it’s not clear whether this was straight up, or whether he was just the headliner.

Regardless of the package, this seems fairly cut and dry that the team did the right thing in turning down this trade. Puig only has one more year of arbitration on his contract, so his value isn’t as high as you may think. Not only that, the off-the-field headache he would inevitably cause in one way or another would probably not make that minimal value worthwhile for Nationals anyway.

Unless there were any interesting extra prospects on top of Puig, which is unlikely, this one seems straightforward. The team would much rather increase their chances of re-signing Harper than have Puig sat behind Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton as a fourth outfielder.

Astros Proposal

Now we rewind a little further to around the end of July before the MLB Trade Deadline. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently reported that the Astros had agreed to a deal with the Nats’ front office for Harper before ownership nixed the trade.

Rosenthal reports that the deal would’ve given the Nationals right-handed starter J.B. Bukauskas, catcher Garrett Stubbs and then a low-level minor league pitcher who is unnamed. Given that Harper was only a rental, Houston being prepared to give up a former first-round pick from 2017 in Bukauskas, and Stubbs who slashed .310/.382 /.455 in Triple-A last season would’ve been a nice haul.

This is a much more difficult call than the Dodgers’ deal given the two headliners are areas of need for the Nats, and both prospects have a chance to debut in the big leagues in 2019. However, neither is necessarily a blue-chip prospect, and both have questions about how they will fare at the highest level.

In the end, to determine whether it was the right decision or not, will depend on how hard the front office pursues Harper this offseason.

If they are pushing hard for Harper and going above and beyond to try and keep him, whether they succeed or not, then it was the correct decision to reject the trade. The point here is that they gave themselves the best possible chance to keep the outfielder in a race they were fully committed to. That’s all the team knew they could control when they were offered those trades.

However, if they now make a minimal effort for Harper, such as just leaving that 10-year $300 million offer with no opt-outs as the limit, then turning down the Astros’ offer is a huge mistake. It would make very little sense to hold onto him over some potentially useful prospects if they weren’t even going to try to keep him.

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It’s impossible to tell how Bryce Harper’s free agency will end even now, let alone know how it would go back when these offers were received. All the Washington Nationals could do back then was give themselves the best chance to pursue their star, which they did by keeping hold of him.