Of course, the mere fact that both players were placed on waivers doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. As Rosenthal himself notes, virtually every player in MLB will be placed on trade waivers at some point in August, so there’s no way to gauge the Nats’ intentions with Harper and Murphy at this time. There’s little reason not to put these players through trade waivers, actually, since there’s no risk involved on the move. If they clear, the Nationals have the ability to trade either one at any point between now and August 31st. If one is claimed, the club can either choose to work out a deal with the claiming team or simply pull the player back off waivers.
[RELATED: How August Trades Work]
But while the move itself doesn’t bear much in the way of consequences, the responses hereafter will certainly merit close attention, particularly in regards to Harper. Though much was made of the 25-year-old’s somewhat forgettable start to the season, he’s put the campaigns first four months firmly in the rearview mirror by batting a titanic .400/.474/.750 with five home runs so far in the month of August. As Rosenthal notes, Harper’s owed about $5MM more over the remainder of 2018, and if he’s able to continue at anything close to his current pace, he’d certainly be a tremendous asset to any contending club.
The easiest scenario to imagine involving Harper is that he’ll be claimed by a contending National League team, the two sides won’t be able to work out a deal, and the Nats will ultimately revoke the claim, keeping Harper in Washington for the remainder of the season. Trading him, after all, would firmly indicate that the organization is punting the 2018 season, and such a signal to the fans would be a public relations disaster. That disaster would be made even worse should the club experience a sudden hot streak and vault themselves within reach of a playoff spot, only to be without their best hitter.
The timing of the deal, however, has some interesting implications. At this time yesterday the club was only one game removed from a four-game losing streak, when they’d sat a full nine games back of the division-leading Braves. While they’ve won their last two games since then to put a dent in that lead, they’re still seven games behind the Braves, not to mention 6 1/2 back of the Phillies. Their Wild Card outlook isn’t any better; they’re five games back of Milwaukee for the second spot with the Cardinals, Rockies and Dodgers all ahead of them. It’s not at all outlandish to think that now might be the right time for the Nats to try and get whatever they can in return for Harper while saving $5MM in a lost season.
Murphy is the likelier of the two to clear waivers, though he’s no sure bet himself. He’s owed $4MM across the remainder of the season, but has experienced somewhat of a resurgence lately himself. The 33-year-old free agent to be has been crushing baseballs since the All-Star break, posting a .354/.386/.563 batting line with five homers and a strikeout rate in the single digits. There are plenty of contenders who might benefit from adding him to their infield, even if he hasn’t exactly impressed defensively.