Baseball fans everywhere were stripped of high-level trade deadline intrigue last season, as Ken Rosenthal details in a stunning report for The Athletic, when a trade that would have sent Bryce Harper to the Astros in exchange for a trio of prospects was nixed by Washington’s ownership group. The trade, said to have been agreed upon a day before the July 31 deadline, would have sent 2017 first-rounder J.B. Bukauskas to the Nats, as well as two other prospects, one of which was reportedly catcher Garrett Stubbs. Though Bukauskas faces questions about a third pitch, which could relegate him to eventual relief duty, and Stubbs has cooled after a blistering 2016 performance for Double-A Corpus Christi, the package was surely superior in value to the compensatory pick the Nationals will receive should Harper depart in free agency, which, as Rosenthal notes, will come after the fourth round in next year’s draft, by virtue of the club exceeding the luxury tax total in 2018. Houston, which received middling corner-outfield production from Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez last season, would certainly have benefitted from Harper’s presence in a lineup diminished by injuries to Carlos Correa and a substandard season from George Springer, though the departing asset cost would’ve assuredly been hefty for only two months of the 25-year-old superstar.
- Though no official reason was offered for the disapproval, Rosenthal speculates the Nationals owners may have been worried about damaging their relationship with Harper in the offseason to come. The club, after all, did offer Harper a reported $300MM over ten years on the last day of the 2018 season, and figures to further its aggression in efforts to sign the generational talent. During the August waiver period, the club also shot down a Dodger effort to acquire Harper, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. It appears this offer, which reportedly included outfielder Yasiel Puig at its center, was nixed at the front office level, though it’s certainly plausible that previous ownership mandates were a significant factor in the team’s eventual refusal to depart with the star. Puig, certainly, would have been an intriguing return for just over a month’s use of Harper – the 27-year-old has had his share of on-field dustups, to be sure, but has remained a force at the plate: in an odd reverse split, the polarizing Cuban has put up a 142 wRC+ against right-handed pitching the last two seasons, good for 12th among qualifiers in baseball during that span, and is under team control through the 2019 season.
- After being stonewalled in their Harper pursuit, sources told Rosenthal that the Astros pivoted their attention (to, obviously, no avail) in the final hours to White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia, dangling right-handed pitching prospect Francis Martes, whose damaged right elbow was apparently of no concern to the Southsiders. Garcia, who’s been around replacement-level in five of his six major league seasons thus far, seemed an odd target for an Astro club not much in need of a right-handed boost – the 27-year-old, after all, posted a minuscule 1.4% BB rate in the season’s first half, and again sunk to a level of below-league-average production by the time his season ended in knee surgery in mid-September.