What if the Nationals -- everyone's preseason pick to run away with the National League East -- really do decide to sell before Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline? And what if (gasp!) star slugger Bryce Harper -- arguably the face of the franchise and one of the biggest names in the
What if the Nationals -- everyone's preseason pick to run away with the National League East -- really do decide to sell before Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline? And what if (gasp!) star slugger Bryce Harper -- arguably the face of the franchise and one of the biggest names in the sport -- was dangled as their most massive trade chip?
Three weeks ago, when MLB.com's Mike Petriello considered the possibility of a Harper trade, it sounded crazy. But now that the Nats are 51-51 and have just placed right-hander Stephen Strasburg back on the disabled list with a neck injury? Maybe it's not quite so crazy.
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Keep in mind: Harper, 25, is a free agent at season's end, making him a rental much like fellow superstar Manny Machado, who was traded from the Orioles to the Dodgers on July 18. The lefty-swinging outfielder is also due the remainder of his $21.6 million salary for 2018. And while Harper has maintained his perch near the top of the NL home run leaders (25), his production has dropped off since early May, leaving his slash line at .216/.364/.476 -- which is subpar for him.
That said, if one of the contenders below added Bryce's bat, it could impact the postseason picture -- and quite possibly the postseason itself -- in a major way.
While a Harper trade still remains highly unlikely, things could change if the Nats lose a couple more games in the NL East standings this weekend. If that happens, here are seven blockbuster proposals that just might be enough to pry Harper away from Washington.
1. New York Yankees
Harper for outfielder Estevan Florial (New York's No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), right-hander Erik Swanson (No. 22) and right-hander Juan De Paula (No. 27), or right-hander Chance Adams (No. 13), Swanson and De Paula
Duquette's take: Aaron Judge was given a timetable of three weeks after sustaining a chip fracture in his right wrist on Thursday, so he could be back around mid-August. But with the Yankees entering Friday 4 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East, time is not exactly a luxury for New York, and the club doesn't have much outfield depth with Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier also out. Bringing Harper to the Bronx could be exactly the type of blockbuster move that puts the Yanks over the top in the division. Although they may be reluctant to give up top prospects for a rental, they would have as good of a chance as anyone to re-sign Harper this offseason.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
Harper for right-hander Adonis Medina (Philadelphia's No. 3 prospect), outfielder Adam Haseley (No. 4) and left-hander Kyle Dohy (No. 23)
Duquette's take: Much has been made of the Phillies' needs on the left side of the infield, especially with the club making a push for Machado, and Philadelphia doesn't have an obvious opening in the outfield with Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams performing well. But in a wide-open NL, adding Harper to the lineup could make a major difference for the Phils. Trading within the division is always tough, but Philly has the prospects to get a deal done. It would likely take a package similar to the one that was on the table for Machado.
3. Cleveland Indians
Harper for right-hander Shane Bieber (Cleveland's No. 2 prospect), third baseman Nolan Jones (No. 3) and outfielder Johnathan Rodriguez (No. 23), or Bieber, catcher Noah Naylor (No. 5) and Rodriguez
Duquette's take: Aside from Michael Brantley, the Indians have gotten meager production from their outfielders this season. In fact, Cleveland's outfield ranks 29th in the Majors in homers (24) and 25th in wRC+ (88), even with Brantley's numbers included. The Indians' deal for Jay Bruce last August worked out well for the club, and acquiring Harper could have an even greater impact as the Tribe looks to compete with the top offenses in the AL. The Indians already traded top prospect Francisco Mejia to the Padres in a deal for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, but they still have some attractive pieces that they might be willing to move with their window to contend open now.
4. Oakland A's
Harper for left-hander A.J. Puk (Oakland's No. 2 prospect), right-hander Wyatt Marks (No. 26) and either shortstop/outfielder Jorge Mateo (No. 7), right-hander James Kaprielian (No. 9) and right-hander Logan Shore (No. 14)
Duquette's take: When the A's are in position to contend, executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane usually likes to go for it at the Trade Deadline. Case in point: Oakland swung deals for Jeff Samardzija and Jonathan Lester in July 2014, sending top prospect Addison Russell to the Cubs in its trade for Samardzija.
The A's entered Friday within one game of the Mariners in the AL Wild Card race, and they could use an upgrade in the outfield, making Harper a perfect fit. Oakland and Washington pulled off a deal just last year that worked out well for both clubs, with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson going to D.C. for Blake Treinen, Jesus Luzardo (now Oakland's No. 1 prospect) and Sheldon Neuse (No. 10). While Luzardo may be off the table because of Harper's impending free agency, a package centered around Puk, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery but was the No. 6 overall pick in 2016, could entice the Nats.
5. Seattle Mariners
Harper for outfielder Kyle Lewis (Seattle's No. 1 prospect), right-hander Sam Carlson (No. 6) and third baseman Joe Rizzo (No. 12), or first baseman Evan White (No. 2), Carlson and Rizzo
Duquette's take: The Mariners have the longest postseason drought in the Majors, as they haven't made it since 2001, and the red-hot A's have closed the gap in the AL Wild Card race. While Robinson Cano should help once he returns from his suspension in August, Seattle might need to make a big splash to hold off Oakland. There aren't many bigger moves the M's could make than trading for Harper, though they would likely need to include Lewis or White just to get the conversation started.
6. Colorado Rockies
Harper for right-hander Peter Lambert (Colorado's No. 2 prospect) and right-hander Robert Tyler (No. 12)
Duquette's take: Even after trading for Seunghwan Oh, the Rockies' biggest area of need remains the pitching staff. But instead of dealing for another hurler, Colorado could go the other way and attempt to outslug its opponents all the way to the postseason. With Harper in the fold, the Rockies could move Gerardo Parra to a reserve role, for which he's better suited. Rodgers or Lambert would have to headline any offer for Harper, and adding another top 15 prospect such as Tyler would make Colorado's package very competitive.
7. San Francisco Giants
Harper for outfielder Heliot Ramos (San Francisco's No. 2 prospect), outfielder Steven Duggar (No. 3), right-hander Ray Black (No. 17) and right-hander Camilo Doval (No. 21), or Ramos, outfielder Chris Shaw (No. 5), Black and Doval
Duquette's take: With a veteran-laden roster, the Giants are built to contend this season, but their production in the outfield has been lackluster (94 wRC+). Harper would remedy that problem, giving San Francisco's lineup some much-needed thump. The Giants' farm system is not all that deep, so they would likely have to put Ramos in any offer to be a serious competitor for Harper's services. S.F. is also up against the $197 million luxury-tax threshold, so it would probably need Washington to pay some of Harper's remaining salary and/or take back a decent-sized contract to make a deal work.
Jim Duquette, who was the Mets' GM in 2004, offers his opinions as a studio analyst and columnist for MLB.com.
Jason Catania is a reporter for MLB.com.