Though they did entertain some offers, according to Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, in the end the Nationals declined to trade Bryce Harper at either the non-waiver or waiver deadlines this past summer, in spite of the fact that the then-25, now-26-year-old outfielder seemed destined to test the free agent market even then, leaving the Nats’ organization with only a compensatory pick (after the 4th Round) should the 2010 No. 1 overall selection decline the 1-year/$19.7M qualifying offer the team extended this week and sign elsewhere this winter.
“We had several discussions with teams about a whole litany of our players,” Rizzo explained after the non-waiver deadline passed.
“Bryce was one of them. Several teams had more than passing interest. We did our due diligence on Bryce and five or six other of our players, and couldn’t come up with a deal that made sense for us for the 2018 season and beyond.”
“It had to be a spectacular set of circumstances for us to move a player of Bryce Harper’s ability level,” Rizzo added, “and we didn’t get any that met those qualifications.”
According to a report by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal this afternoon, the Nationals did, in fact, have a trade in place that would have sent Harper to the Houston Astros in return for three prospects (22-year-old right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, ranked No. 8 on MLB.com’s list of Houston’s prospects; catcher Garrett Stubbs, 25, and ranked No. 15; and what Rosenthal describes as, “... another, low-level, minor-league pitcher as well.”)
The potential deal with the Astros, Rosenthal writes, “collapsed when Washington Nationals’ ownership refused to approve the move, according to major league sources,” with the likely thinking behind the decision, he noted, that they feared dealing him would have hurt their relationship with Harper and harmed any chances they had of signing him long-term.
According to a report this week, by Los Angeles Times’ writer Jorge Castillo, who previously worked at the Washington Post covering the Nationals, the Nats also declined a trade at the waiver deadline.
LA’s Dodgers, who claimed Harper on waivers, reportedly offered outfielder, “[Yasiel] Puig in a trade, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, but the two sides could not strike a deal.”
Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies at the time that he viewed the move by the Dodgers to claim Harper as an attempt to block other teams from getting him.
“It seemed like it,” he said. “We didn’t have any meaningful discussions about anything, so it looked like it was just a block.”
Will the Nationals regret not getting something more than a compensatory (post-4th round) pick in return for Harper if he signs elsewhere this winter when they could have dealt him in return for three prospects, including Bukauskus, a 2017 1st Round pick, and Stubbs, a 2015 8th Round pick?
To make it sound worse, Rosenthal describes the pick the Nationals will get should Harper sign elsewhere, as the, “... the lowest form of draft-pick compensation after [the Nationals joined] the Red Sox as one of only two teams to exceed the $197 million luxury-tax threshold during the 2018 season.”
Puig is under team control for one more season, and due a raise to around $11.9M in 2019 after earning $7.5M this past year in the final deal of a 7-year/$42M contract the outfielder signed with the Dodgers in 2012.
Is there anyone out there who thinks the Nationals should have dealt Harper for Puig when the waiver deadline rolled around and they were pretty clearly (in their minds, considering what they ended up doing) out of contention in the NL East at that point? Should the Nats have taken the Astros’ offer?