Inbox: Will Washington trade Harper?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier fields questions from Nationals fans

November 21st, 2017

After the General Managers Meetings last week in Orlando, Fla., and as the offseason continues to roll along, it's time for a Nationals Inbox to address some of your questions before the Thanksgiving holiday.

This week's Inbox focuses on 's status in Washington, the luxury tax and a reason to believe in Dave Martinez.

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Would you consider trading Harper? I am one of his biggest fans, and I know the desire to win next year, but would the return be worth it in the long run?

-- Tim O., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

I am pretty shocked how many variations of this question I have received lately -- from people who like Bryce Harper, but do not think he will come back to Washington; to people who do not like Bryce Harper, and do not think he is worth the money it will take to re-sign him; to people convinced the Nationals will not pay him to re-sign him. A lot of fans are wondering if trading Harper sometime before the non-waiver Trade Deadline is an option.

It's not. Nor do I think it should be.

Perhaps this was sparked by the latest comments from Harper's agent, Scott Boras, who said at the General Managers Meetings that he has not had any conversations with Washington about a contract extension for Harper. Or maybe people are just on edge as Harper enters the final season of his contract. But there is virtually no chance the Nats will trade Harper. Even if the Nationals are convinced Harper will leave for free agency after the 2018 season, they still will have one of the best players in baseball and a perennial MVP candidate in the prime of his career for next season, when they will try to win the World Series.

It would be extremely difficult to get any sort of real return on value for Harper in a trade. Why would teams trade anything substantial for a guy they could just sign in a few months? The only conceivable way for the Nationals to trade Harper next season would be if they completely underachieved and were out of the playoff race by the All-Star break. And the way the NL East played out last season and in the era of the second Wild Card, that seems highly unlikely.

The Nationals are going to try to win with Harper next season and they are going to try to re-sign him.

You don't list as a possible signee. Why not? Is it that Brian Goodwin can fill that role ... but who is the backup first baseman?

-- Ed S., Garrett Park, Md.

I think if the Nationals wanted to keep Lind, they could have picked up his option for next season. But they declined the mutual option that would have paid him $5 million, which I think will make a reunion next season unlikely. Perhaps the team did not want to commit that much money to a player they would use primarily off the bench. After Lind's successful 2017 season, I would not be surprised to see a team willing to use him in some sort of platoon role next year, at or around the price the Nationals were not willing to pay. Goodwin will be more of a fourth outfielder, rather than filling Lind's role, so finding a backup first baseman will be one of the items on the Nats' to-do list this offseason.

The Nationals' payroll exceeded $190 million last season, pushing it past the luxury tax for the first time in team history, meaning they had to pay a 20 percent tax on the amount they went over the threshold. If they pass it again this season, they will be taxed at a 30 percent rate. The threshold is supposed to be about $197 million next season, so while the Nats have a few contracts to settle in arbitration and some additions to make to fill out the roster, it will be difficult to make any significant additions without exceeding the luxury tax.

The Nationals are not a team to normally spend without restrictions, but I'm not sure there is any sort of mandate from ownership to remain under the luxury tax. It's more likely the Nats will be careful in how they spend their money this offseason and are unlikely to chase any of the sort of front-line free agents that will command huge, multi-year contracts.

Last year, the four top outfielders were out due to injuries for extensive periods of time. Shouldn't they have six top-notch outfielders to draw from next year?

-- Jack N., Springfield, Md.

I wrote about the Nationals' outfield depth a little bit last week, but I think the team's outfield depth is something they could still use to their advantage next season. Last season's plethora of outfield injuries seemed like a bit of a fluke and none of the team's current top four outfielders are old or injury prone. I would probably not trade from the top of that outfield depth chart -- Harper, , Michael A. Taylor,  -- and would enter the season with that depth as an advantage, or something to be traded from later.

The short answer to this question is: We don't know. Martinez has never been a manager and we have no idea how he will react in certain situations until he gets to them. The reason for Nationals fans to buy in right now, however, is that he comes with solid credentials.

The reasons for optimism include: learning under Joe Maddon for years, a strong background in analytics, Martinez's reputation for handling the Cubs' clubhouse and being the person to handle behind-the-scenes issues, and the fact that so many people have considered he will be a great manager one day. However, the reality is, who knows until the season begins?