After nearly flipping Bryce Harper at the deadline, along with every other player who wasn’t nailed down, it seemed as though the Nationals had given up on trying to retain him in free agency. But according to Fancred’s Jon Heyman, Washington is prepping for “a strong effort to try to keep” their homegrown superstar this winter.
Such a push is complicated by the Nats’ financial situation, as laid out by Chelsea Janes in the Washington Post. Janes writes that Washington doesn’t just want to avoid going over the competitive balance tax threshold for the third straight season, “they do not want to come close.” That means reloading several positions — catcher, second base, multiple starting pitchers, depth for the bullpen and bench — for around $30 million.
Adding Harper on top of that would send that figure to maybe $60 million, which would see the Nationals blowing way past the CBT limit of $206 million for next season. And while that might seem to eliminate them from any chance at retaining their star for what could be the biggest contract ever, Heyman indicates that they could simply view Harper as too important to let walk away.
Nats people love Harper, the young homegrown star who’s ultra popular with fans who love having a superstar position player with power they can call their own. And while there’s a perception that drama surrounds Harper in some circles, the Nats don’t see it that way; they view him as a spirited young man who’s enthusiastic about the game, a gym rat type who’s driven to succeed.
Rather than operate under the notion that they’ll definitely be able to talk Harper into staying, which I don’t personally think they have a shot to do, the Nats are wisely proceeding with dual plans. The first, which would include Harper, would likely see them shopping in the bargain bin while trading prospects for serviceable major leaguers. After all, we just saw how many spots they have to fill.
The second — and perhaps much more viable — option sees them going back to the past and once again building around a young superstar while making more cost-effective moves like getting Kyle Barraclough from the Marlins. Juan Soto emerged in 2018 as one of the game’s next generation of superstars, slashing .292/.406/.517 with 22 homers and 77 RBI in just 494 plate appearances. And he did it all at just 19 years old.
Soto’s rise to prominence doesn’t make Harper obsolete, but it does make him more of a luxury than a necessity. And if the Nats are truly intent on maintaining a lower payroll, they’re going to have to limit big expenditures on individual players.
It’s felt inevitable for some time now that Harper would leave Washington in free agency, and I see nothing here to indicate anything otherwise.