Bryce Harper trade rumors have surfaced following the Washington Nationals getting eliminated from the postseason. Though it seems like the Nationals would not want to trade Harper in the near future, it hasn’t stopped baseball fans from hypothesizing that big changes are coming in Washington this winter. The Los Angeles Dodgers came back to beat the Nationals in the 2016 NLDS, despite playing Game 5 on the road. Rather than the continued Clayton Kershaw trade rumors, it has morphed into claims that the Nationals cannot win with Harper.
So why are many baseball fans blaming Bryce Harper for the Washington Nationals failing to make it to the NLCS? During the series, he posted only one extra-base hit and three RBIs, not something a successful team wants to see from a hitter in the middle of the lineup. Harper did have a 0.458 on-base percentage and three steals, though, showing that he was getting on base in nearly half of his plate appearances. Still, it has been easy for “fans” to place blame on him when he had a 0.235 batting average for the series.
During the 2016 MLB regular season, Bryce Harper had 24 home runs, 86 RBIs, 84 runs scored, 21 stolen bases, and 108 walks to his credit. Harper had his lowest batting average since debuting with the Nationals at just 0.243, but did have an on-base percentage of 0.373. This came a year after Harper had 42 home runs, 99 RBIs, a 0.330 batting average, and an OPS of 1.109 to lead the National League. Harper would end up winning the NL MVP Award, as well as a Silver Slugger Award among outfielders.
Within his contract, Harper has two arbitration years before he can hit free agency for the 2019 MLB season. His salary is going to go up quite a bit during this winter, with a potential that the Nationals could simply offer him a long-term deal that crosses over the arbitration years. It’s also possible that the team could look to deal him for a package of prospects that would help the team not only save money but continue to build with a core of other young stars that have started to show themselves.
For the 2017 MLB season, the Washington Nationals have about $102 million in committed payroll. This does not count any arbitration deals, which will be constructed during the offseason. It also assumes that team options for Gio Gonzalez ($12 million) and Yusmeiro Petit ($3 million) will be accepted. If the team wants to shave another $12 million off of the payroll, the front office could simply decline those options. Gonzalez might be considered a bargain, though, especially with the going rate for starting pitchers in free agency.
The Nationals do have to address the bullpen, with closer Mark Melancon about to hit free agency. The team will have first crack at offering him a new deal, but following a season where he had a 1.65 ERA and 47 saves, Melancon is going to command a very hefty salary. Catcher Wilson Ramos is also a free agent after posting a 0.307 batting average, 22 home runs, and 80 RBIs. Retaining both players and meeting the arbitration salary demands of all rostered players could push the team payroll close to $200 million in 2017.
Bryce Harper will be just 24 years old when the next season begins, showing he may still have a lot of development in front of him. Through five seasons, he has a 162-game average of 30 home runs, 82 RBIs, 102 runs scored, a 0.279 batting average, and a 0.382 on-base percentage over that time. Those are All-Star numbers in either league and something that the Washington Nationals should not want to give up. Dealing Harper, while the team is a contender in the National League, would be a poor decision by the front office.
It doesn’t matter how many MLB trade rumors currently include Harper or how many baseball fans don’t like him as a star of the game. Harper is a talent that any of the 30 franchises would be lucky to have and would give up a great group of prospects to acquire. There is no reason for the Washington Nationals to deal him and no reason for fans of the team to pay close attention to any forthcoming Bryce Harper trade rumors.
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