Ever since the Nationals drafted Bryce Harper first overall of the 2010 MLB draft, they knew they’d have a daunting task in resigning superstar Bryce Harper once he was set the hit free agency. Now, the time has come, as Harper is set to be a free agent this offseason. The assumption was always that the Nationals would do whatever it took to sign Harper. However, with the Nationals underachieving at 62-62 and Harper having arguably his worst season, should the Nationals even try to retain Harper? The answer is no, due to several reasons.
It’s unclear what type of contract Harper will get, but the expectation is that he’ll get a contract worth $30-$40M annually for 8-10 years. That’s a lot for a guy who only has a 1.7 WAR and a .248/.384/.518. There have been signs of life for Harper, as his 41.% hard contact rate is a career high and he’s hitting .370 in the second half. However, none of that makes up for -13 defensive runs saved in the outfield this season. You can’t be considered an elite player with such awful defensive metrics and a below average WAR, as the $30M to $40M Harper, could make annually would suggest.
The Nationals don’t even have to worry about replacing Harper, as his immediate replacement is currently in the minors. That player would be Victor Robles, who is MLB.Com’s #5 ranked prospect in all of baseball. The 21-year old earns above-average grades as a hitter (60 hit 55 power) and is an elite runner and fielder (75 run 70 field 70 arm). That elite fielding makes him a better fit for the Nationals, who lack a true center fielder on the roster but have a lot of corner outfielders (Juan Soto, Adam Eaton). He also obviously is way cheaper than Harper, since he only has 0.025 years of MLB service time. If his hitting could translate to the MLB, he has a chance to be as productive as Harper has been this year with his other elite traits. Washington has watched him grow into a top 5 prospect in all of baseball so it would be a shame to have him continue to be blocked for a glut of outfielders, which would slow down his development.
It’s not like the Nationals are a perfect team. They have gotten close to zero production from either of their catchers this season, lack depth in the rotation, lack a shutdown closer, and second baseman Daniel Murphy will be a free agent at the end of the year. If they invest $30-40M in Harper, they’ll won’t be able to fill these more pressing needs. That’d be a silly thing to do, considering that they could get 2-3 quality players at that same price. How about Yasmani Grandal at catcher? The 29-year-old is hitting .248/349/.490 with a 2.0 WAR, is an excellent framer, and would likely cost $12-16M. Washington could sign 3B Mike Moustakas and move Anthony Rendon to second. The 29-year-old is hitting .257/.320/.468 with a 2.7 WAR and would likely cost $8-10M. Patrick Corbin would definitely help solidify Washington’s rotation. The 29-year-old left-hander has a 3.18 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 2.41 FIP, and a 3.7 WAR. He’s likely to get $16-18M annually. If they want to get a dominant closer, then Washington could go after 31-year-old Craig Kimbrel. He has a 2.52 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 3.38 FIP despite going on a horrible stretch for about a week. He’s likely to get $17-18M and has a 2.0 WAR despite being a reliever. All of these guys share one thing in common: they all have a higher WAR than Harper and are much cheaper. If Washington can get 2-3 of these guys, it makes more sense to balance their team out rather than run out the same team that has been mediocre at best this season.
While signing Bryce Harper may make sense for some teams, it doesn’t for the Nationals. Washington has several needs that they need to fill if they want to be a World Series caliber team, and they can’t do that giving Harper the contract that he’ll demand. Their best move is to replace Harper with top prospect Victor Robles and sign 2-3 quality players instead. No one ever thought this would be the case, but it’s time for Washington to move on from Bryce Harper.