General Manager Mike Rizzo was kind enough to send a 10-word press statement on Tuesday:
“Bryce is not going anywhere. I believe in this team.”
That statement from Rizzo was in response to trade rumors. While the statement was brief, we should not expect it to denote that Bryce Harper will be a Washington Nationals player in perpetuity. As of now, Bryce Harper’s Nationals employment will end shortly after the season ends — unless an extension is completed which does not seem likely now. In free agency, maybe Rizzo does re-sign Harper, who knows? It takes two to tango which is a constant response from Rizzo regarding re-signing players.
For a brief period of time though, it appeared that Mike Rizzo could have been open to trading Rizzo if any of the rumors were factual.
“It would have to be a spectacular set of circumstances for us to [trade Harper],” Rizzo said in a 106.7 radio interview last week. “We’re going to do what we have to do to better this team for 2018 and beyond. That’s one of the superstars in the game. And he’s a guy that is near and dear to my heart personally, and in Washington D.C., and is one of the great players in the game.”
What we learned from sources was that Rizzo never received a spectacular offer to even consider trading Harper. The rumors swirled in Los Angeles that the Dodgers wanted to acquire Harper, but where was the spectacular offer? We were told it never came, and none of those teams rumored to be “in” on Harper in free agency (Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies) put together anything of substance to acquire Harper now to help them towards a World Series championship. That should be a message to Harper. The only team in the end that believed in Harper was the Washington Nationals.
“I think you go back to the comments I made, what was it, a week or so ago,” Rizzo said. “It had to be a spectacular set of circumstances for us to move a player of Bryce Harper’s ability level, and we didn’t get any [trade offers] that met those qualifications.”
Leading up to midnight on the day before the deadline, the rumors that Harper was available for trade was in full-swing. But as you will see from Rizzo’s and Harper’s comments (below), Harper knew earlier that day on July 30th that he was not going anywhere.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 31, 2018
Rizzo seemed to cut-off the drama and contacted Harper a day earlier. He let him know he was not going to be traded. Even though social media and the newspaper writers were in a frenzy quoting anonymous sources, Harper was off-the-market and not “available” for trade.
“I only got in touch with [Bryce] when some information came out that we were in the midst of looking to trade Bryce Harper. And I thought that time was probably a good idea to say that was false information…,” Rizzo said the day of the trade deadline that he contacted Harper the day before.
Bryce Harper backed up what Rizzo said that on July 30th he was contacted by Mike Rizzo which sure does call into question those rumors.
“Rizzo reassured me earlier yesterday that I wasn’t going anywhere,” Harper said. “So I was very happy about that and that I’m still inside this clubhouse. It shows how much faith they have in this team. From higher-up all the way down to us.”
Buster Olney said he would bet his farm on Harper being traded. Whoops.
“If I had to bet the family farm, back in Vermont, one way or the other, I think by the end of the day, he’s on another team,” Olney said.
The Nationals certainly could have sold at the trade deadline. Principal owner Mark Lerner wrote an impassioned letter to the fans. Lerner for the first time stated the payroll exceeds $200 million which is the second highest in baseball and only trails the Red Sox. If the Nats traded Harper and a few of the other pending free agents, they could have lowered the payroll and been under the tax threshold which comes with some team penalties. Most of that states the obvious — but important to read it direct from ownership. They have invested in this team far beyond the revenues, and the team so far has not delivered to expectations.
“…So far this season has not lived up to everyone’s expectations,” Lerner wrote. “The trade deadline forced us to take a hard look at the roster and contemplate whether to keep the team we have for the remainder of the season or make significant changes. At the end of the day, my family and Mike Rizzo decided that we just couldn’t give up on this team. We couldn’t look ourselves in the mirror knowing that we had simply thrown in the towel on a team full of talent and heart.”
If the Washington Nationals do not keep winning, ownership could decide to sell in August. Never say never. The team is not selling now. That is their decision. By not selling, if Harper leaves after the season, the Nationals will only receive a 4th round draft pick as compensation. Here we are not even a week removed from the non-waiver trade deadline.
The Nationals are 5-1 since that 4pm deadline passed on July 31st. The Nationals hottest hitter (with at least ten at-bats) since that 4pm deadline is Bryce Harper. His slashline is .476/.577/.857/1.434 slash in those 6-games. It is Harper’s hottest streak of the season since Week 1. That is how long we have waited for Harper to get hot again for an extensive period . Is it any coincidence that this “hot streak” started after the non-waiver trade deadline passed? The streak really started after the All-Star break when Harper clicked in. The Home Run Derby champ is slashing a very good .367/.484/.673/1.157 in the 15 games since that point.
One fact about Harper, this is actually his third best season so far of his 7-season career with the Nationals. Can Harper smack 32 more RBIs this season to reach the 100 RBI mark? Harper has been averaging an RBI per game since the All-Star break. The Nationals are 31-10 when Harper drives in at least one-run. Yesterday’s RBI was the difference in the game which the Nats won 2-1.
“I’m very happy to write Bryce’s name in the line-up still, and looking forward to writing his name every day,” manager Dave Martinez said.
The Nationals seem to go as Bryce Harper goes. It’s no surprise how Harper is playing now because he is healthy. At some point you had to expect that Harper would get hot. Where he ends up, nobody knows and like everything in baseball — history will write itself.
“I understand that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” Harper said after he was not traded.
Hopefully other teams will be green with envy. Maybe the greatest trade for Mike Rizzo was the one he didn’t — Bryce Harper.