Yesterday, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper appeared on MLB Network with Alexa Datt and they had a chat about his 2018 season. Harper was asked this question, “Right now you’re playing alongside what the Nationals would consider the ‘Dream Team’ out in the outfield alongside Juan Soto and Victor Robles. What’s it like playing alongside these guys especially seeing what Juan Soto has done this year?” Harper started off his answer complimenting what Juan Soto has meant to the team then talking about Victor Robles, and finally Bryce Harper finished his answer with an unsolicited statement about himself.
“…It’s going to be an exciting future for the Nationals, and we’ll see if I’m in those plans” — Bryce Harper
In February at the opening of spring training camp, Harper put the media on notice that they should not ask about his future.
What if Harper decides he wants to stay, and the Nationals decide they want him back? With five outfielders under Nationals team control next year including Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Michael Taylor and Andrew Stevenson, how would Bryce Harper fit into the 2019 mix?
The answer could be a move of Harper or Soto to play some first base with Ryan Zimmerman in the near-term. With Zim in his final guaranteed year with the Nationals in 2019, the team could look to transition Harper or Soto to first base.
Can the Nationals afford to bring Harper back with the team’s needs for a top of the rotation pitcher like Patrick Corbin and a frontline catcher?
With all of the trades of pending free agents and Brandon Kintzler, only six current pending free agents remain on that list including Harper, Matt Wieters, Kelvin Herrera, Jeremy Hellickson, Mark Reynolds and Joaquin Benoit. With Kintzler’s $5 million salary gone for next year, the Nationals will shed nearly $93 million in salary before adding back raises for arbitration eligible players. Add Greg Holland to that list of pending free agents, but the Nationals are only paying him the MLB minimum as the Cardinals are paying the rest of his salary. The team have two big arbitration players with Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark who will be due large raises in 2019. The 2019 tax cap is $206 million.
If you think Harper would get $30 million from the Nats, the team would have another $32 million remaining to spend but let’s look at the 2019 tax chart which would put the Nationals at $144 million with $62 million to spend to the $206 million tax cap.
If the Nationals re-signed Harper, the Nationals would most likely have to look at trading or non-tendering Michael Taylor and Tanner Roark while possibly even looking at the unthinkable of trading Anthony Rendon to save that $18 million (projected) and MLBTR tackles the thoughts of giving Rendon and extension. If the Nationals traded Rendon, they would not save the entire $18 million as they would have to look at adding a free agent 3rd baseman like a Mike Moustakas who might cost $10 to $12 million a year. If the team traded Roark, they could replace him with an internal candidate like Erick Fedde. Keep in mind that Roark last year and again this year has been a mid-4.25 to 4.70 ERA and those pitchers are easy to pick up and for much less money.
By the way, in that MLB Network interview, Byrce Harper said his goals for the rest of the year is to reach “100 RBIs 100 runs 100 walks 30 doubles 30 homers.”
UPDATED: It seems MLB Network Radio just had a similar discussion on the subject:
Should the #Nationals resign Bryce Harper at the end of the season? Should they sign Anthony Rendon to a contract extension?@StevePhillipsGM believes it would be wiser to extend Rendon and spread the rest of the money around.#ONEPURSUIT pic.twitter.com/7j7AIx73Hm
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) September 11, 2018