By Robbie Stratakos – Last Word On Baseball
The Washington Nationals are competing for the chance to possibly win the World Series this fall. With the MVP-like production from Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos’ coming-out party as one of the game’s best catchers, Anthony Rendon’s resurgence, and the growth of young phenom Trea Turner, the Nationals are a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Veteran outfielder Jayson Werth has also contributed significantly.
The Nationals Should Trade Bryce Harper if They Don’t Win It All
However, 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper has had little to do with their success. He is hitting under .250, and hasn’t been playing like his elite self on offense or defense. With Harper hitting free agency two years from now, the Nationals might have to make a very difficult decision. If they don’t win the World Series this year, the Nationals should look to trade Bryce Harper.
The Risk of Keeping Harper
Bryce Harper is one of the most iconic figures in all of baseball, and the thought of dealing him sounds ludicrous at first. It’s not. Harper will be a free agent in two years, and his trade value may never be higher than it is right now. Any team that trades for him would have him under contract for two years, not one, and the Nationals must take advantage of that while they still can. While Harper claims that he loves DC and wants to be there for the long haul, it’s not worth the Nats pressing their luck.
Who’s to say that the Dodgers or Yankees won’t offer an enormous contract that Harper can’t refuse? What if Harper suffers a major injury, or doesn’t ever return to his superstar level of play? If that were to happen, his trade value would decline precipitously. Trading Harper now means that the Nationals won’t lose him for nothing, and they would remain competitive in the short term. However, if they can’t find a trade that meets their standards, the Nationals could use Harper as a way to get first baseman and longtime-National Ryan Zimmerman off the roster.
Harper Can Help Get Ryan Zimmerman’s Contract off the Books
The 32-year-old Zimmerman was drafted by, and has played for, the Nationals his entire career. He’s a big reason why the Nationals are the powerhouse team that they are today. Bryce Harper has even called him the leader of their clubhouse, despite Harper’s ascension as a top-five talent over the past few years. The unfortunate reality with Zimmerman is his durability and contract are hurting the Nationals.
Throughout his entire career, Zimmerman has been plagued by injuries, especially in the last four seasons. Despite playing in over 100 games for the first time in three seasons this year, Zimmerman hasn’t played in over 150 games since 2009. His inability to stay healthy has led to his decline, and his contract isn’t helping his image, either. Four years ago, Zimmerman signed a six year extension worth roughly 100 million, with an option on a potential seventh year. He will be entering year four of that deal next season, and his contract will be holding the Nationals back from spending serious money this winter, and the winter’s that follow. Getting Zimmerman’s deal off the books would be crucial for the Nationals so that they can make a run at impending free agents and have future flexibility.
Potential Trade Partners
The list of teams looking to acquire a talent like Harper would be endless, but the Nationals will have to consider what teams may legitimately re-sign him in two years. Two teams that come to mind are the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Both teams have a bevy of trade assets that could be enough to convince Nationals GM Mike Rizzo to pull the trigger on a deal. The Red Sox could offer star closer Craig Kimbrel, utility man Brock Holt, and young arm Joe Kelly. That would be a package that would make the Nationals think long and hard, but the Yankees might have the better assets.
If the Nationals end up losing catcher Wilson Ramos in free agency, the Yankees could be a perfect trade partner for them. They could package a deal headlined by up-and-coming catcher Gary Sanchez, who has been lighting up the baseball world with his power bat, and veteran outfielder Brett Gardner. If the Yankees decide that trading Sanchez this soon is too much to swallow, the Nationals could take an alternate approach. They could offer Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and in return ask for outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who like Zimmerman, is on a heavy contract, reliever Dellin Betances, and shortstop Didi Gregorius or veteran catcher Brian McCann.
While the Red Sox and Yankees would be giving away top-tier back-end relievers by acquiring Harper in those potential deals, the upcoming free agent class is reliever heavy. With closers Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Kenley Jansen available, to name a few, the Red Sox and Yankees would have a number of ways to replace their top-tier relievers. While there are other American League teams who have assets that could intrigue the Nationals, Boston and New York have the most to offer.
World Series or Goodbye
Bryce Harper is an iconic figure in not just baseball, but sports in general. However, his level of production has declined. With Harper hitting free agency in two years, the Nationals can’t take the chance of him leaving for nothing; his value will never be higher than it is right now. If the Nationals don’t win the World Series this fall, they need to trade Bryce Harper while his value is as high as it is.