Washington Nationals: How to sign Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with Anthony Rendon #6 after hitting a two run home run against Tim Peterson #63 of the New York Mets in the seventh inning during their game at Citi Field on July 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with Anthony Rendon #6 after hitting a two run home run against Tim Peterson #63 of the New York Mets in the seventh inning during their game at Citi Field on July 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

With rumors circulating about Bryce Harper returning, we look at how the Washington Nationals can sign both him and Anthony Rendon together.

Lately, there have been reports linking outfielder Bryce Harper with a return to the Washington Nationals. While several fans appear to be on board with this, there is fair concern that the team may not be able to extend Anthony Rendon. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

With the Nats’ lofty payroll situation and the fact that it’s two of the better players in the National League, it’s certainly going to be tough to get both on the books long-term. However, with a bit of creativity, it’s definitely within the realms of possibility.

We’re going to take a look at the possible luxury tax situations for 2019 and 2020 as those are the two that will be significantly affected. However, moving forward, we have to make a few assumptions on this front.

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The first assumption we will make is that Bryce Harper would come back to the Nationals on a ten-year, $350 million deal. This would set both the annual average and total contract value records, so there’s plenty of appeal on this front if the market is as slow as it appears.

Another assumption we’re going to make is that Anthony Rendon will re-sign this offseason on a seven-year, $150 million deal, averaging $25 million. We’re basing this off of existing deals, as well as our FanSided GM Simulation in which we extended him for exactly this amount.

Both of these players could easily sign for more than those figures, but we needed good estimates so that we could construct this exercise. With that in mind, we will try to leave some breathing room on the final luxury tax figure to take that into account.

Our final assumption is that, for the sake of bringing back Harper, ownership is willing to go over the $206 million luxury tax threshold, but want to stay under $20 million in overages so that they don’t have a further surtax. In theory, the Lerners may go higher than that, but they may not want things to get too out of hand in terms of payroll.

The Current Situation

So right now, with no Harper and Rendon projected to make $18 million his final year of arbitration, Cot’s Baseball Contract projects the current luxury tax figure to be around $192 million for 2019. That’s $14 million short of the 2019 tax threshold, giving the Nats a fair amount of breathing room.

So let’s just add our assumed Harper contract of $35 million per season, and the extra $7 million per season to make up the difference between Rendon’s arbitration and assumed extension figure. That takes us up to $234 million in 2019 against the luxury tax, which is likely about $10-12 million above where we want to be.

Shedding Some Salary

Well, with the return of Harper, it makes a player like Adam Eaton pretty expendable. Eaton only counts for $4.7 million against the luxury tax in 2019, but every little helps in this situation, so he would likely be dealt while he still has a fair amount of value to other teams.

You could also trade Michael Taylor and his $4.5 million projected arbitration salary, which would get the figure down to about $225 million. That would leave Andrew Stevenson as your primary backup outfielder, which isn’t ideal, but he’s shown capable enough in spells that it’s worth the risk.

The final piece to the puzzle could be to restructure the contract of Ryan Zimmerman to free up a little more money. With his luxury tax hit set at $16.7 million for 2019 and his desire for an extension evident, it’s possible to find a bit more room under the threshold. We’ve previously looked at this possibility and if the Nats could get him at around $10 million annual average on the new deal, that could work extremely well.

That would have the team’s annual average salaries sitting at roughly $218 million, which would result in a $6 million luxury tax charge. There’s a lot that can change, but in this scenario, the team is well clear of the $226 that would cause the surtax and allow the Nats to keep both their stars.

Looking Ahead to 2020

Now, there are other factors in going over the luxury tax, as this escalated payroll doesn’t quite go away. The Nats would still end up with a lot of money on the book for the following season and have some arbitration eligible players due for a raise, while Yan Gomes‘ tax hit will rise.

However, say if they were to let Howie Kendrick and Trevor Rosenthal go, that would free up $10 million which may cover a sizeable portion of those raises. That could leave the Nationals lurking at around a $220 million tax hit for 2020 as things stand, but a lot can change in that time.

While this is far from exact maths in this piece, hopefully, it portrays the idea that there is a world in which the Nationals can keep Rendon and Harper for the foreseeable future. It will require the Lerner’s to shell out a little extra money and go over the tax threshold, but this was always the case if they wanted to retain Harper anyway.

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The Washington Nationals have one of the richer owners in the game, so if they really want the team to keep its homegrown superstars, they have the means. Nationals fans everywhere would be ecstatic to see Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon back at Nats Park for many more years.