With all of the hubbub surrounding the upcoming trade deadline, there are a few teams who need to make some hard decisions. The Yankees could make a move for an Aaron Judge replacement, the Brewers look to add an arm, and the Mets need to decide if they can sell their entire team before August. On the other side of the coin are teams like the Twins and Rays, who have all announced their willingness to become sellers at the deadline, effectively calling their seasons a wash for the sake of acquiring prospects.
Then there’s the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals are in a tough spot. Sitting just below .500, the Nats were nowhere near where they thought they would be at the deadline. With the season swiftly slipping out of reach, the question is: are they sellers at the deadline? Even more so, is Bryce Harper a surprise trade chip for the Nationals?
The answers to those questions are hard, but it seems the Nationals have made a decision.
The Dodgers reportedly reached out to the Nationals regarding Harper’s availability. I’d like to imagine that the Nationals front office responded by saying, “you know, no one’s asked, so we’ll think about it.”That’s all the information we had, until yesterday when the Nationals made him available at the deadline. And that’s a good thing because Bryce Harper is a once in a lifetime who could reset the Nationals ravaged farm system.
The Nationals farm system is currently ranked 21st in the MLB by Bleacher Report and with studs like Victor Robles, Erik Fedde, and Juan Soto coming to the club in 2018, that number is primed to drop. The Nationals dealt out some big names to get superstars in earlier offseason namely the trade that landed Adam Eaton and a slew of bullpen arms.
When you step back and look at the dealing they’ve done in the past, the Nationals haven’t gotten much in return. In the last three years of trading, the Nationals have traded away 11 players now in the Top 30 of their respective teams and two All-Stars for 6.9 WAR and have paid out around $43 million dollars to get that small sum.
Those aren’t great figures.
However, the Nationals have a chance to make an insanely pro-future deal by shipping out Bryce Harper at the deadline. Manny Machado made the big splash, all the Nats have to do is follow that blueprint.
Does trading away your superstar mean he won’t return the following season? No. Harper is the face for the Nationals, he’s their heart and the best thing he can do for them is accept a trade in the final months before his contract is up.
I’ve talked about it at length before, but the Nationals are going to have some serious financial issues in the upcoming years.
Big deferred contracts and extensions given out by Washington allowed them to ink Scherzer and Strasburg, and that’s it. Both guys have an exorbitant amount of money being deferred to them well into the 2020s. It’s a lot of money, you guys. Scherzer and Strasburg will get paid $25 million a year from 2020 to 2028, $15 million to Scherzer and $10 million for Strasburg. Mad Max will be paid 50% of this salary after he’s done in a Nationals jersey, and Strasburg will get 40% of his money after his days in DC are over.
When Strasburg’s deal ends in 2024 he will be 35 and will make $60 million dollars either sitting at home or playing for another team through 2030. The biggest payday of Strasburg’s contract comes in 2023, at the ripe old age of 34, where the Nationals will pay him $45 million dollars. It’s insane.
After the 2022 season, the Nats are going to be paying Strasburg and Scherzer a combined $25 million or more every year until 2030. That’s roughly 15% of the Nationals payroll in 2018. Add on Harper’s mammoth deal this offseason and 30% of your payroll will be tied up by three guys, one of whom might not be playing for the club.
And Harper’s deal is going to be mammoth, that’s a cold take at best. With sluggers like J.D Martinez and Mike Trout making serious salaries in the $25+ million a year range, it’s an absolute certainty that Harper will get the same if not more. Bryce has a chance to set the market price for explosive superstar talent for the next few years and the Nationals can pay for it if they snag some prospects.
There’s also the MASN dispute that is still ongoing, despite reports that the Orioles want to settle. The Nationals do not have something most teams have; a broadcast network that pays to broadcast their games. Instead, the Nationals have MASN, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, a sports network they “share” with the Baltimore Orioles. The word “Share” is in quotes for a reason, since Baltimore owns a 90% stake in the network and the Nats the other 10%. This lack of broadcasting rights and fees can really kill a team’s finances, and it wasn’t until last year that the Nationals brought that up in their lawsuit. “Without this added and steady income, the Nationals cannot bring full economic confidence to investments in multi-year player contracts to keep up with the fierce competition for top players,” Ed Cohen, a son-in-law of Ted Lerner stated in a court filing. That’s a big, big problem.
All of this aside, the Nationals need to find a deal for Harper and if they don’t it should be considered a failure of a season for the front office. Why? Close your eyes and listen.
I want you to imagine the Nationals as they are now, but add a king’s ransom of prospects. All of these young guys, waiting to get their feet wet at the big league level with guys like Turner, Strasburg, and Scherzer. Add Harper back to the squad in the offseason and the Nationals are leading the NL for the next few years.
The Nationals can finally have their cake and eat it too.