Bryce Harper’s talent is one of the worst-kept secrets in the baseball world. At age 21, he is already an offensive force. Over his brief two-year career, Harper’s 129 wRC+ ranks 9th among MLB outfielders, and his .481 slugging percentage ranks 14th. He has been worth 8.3 fWAR during his career, the second most-valuable National over the last two years. And he’s done all this as the youngest player in the National League two years in a row. But Harper’s value as a player is matched by his value as a commodity. At age 21, with a bright future and 5 more years of team control, Harper would be welcomed by just about every team in baseball, were he made available. Of course, the Nationals are not likely to consider trading their young phenom. But were they to take offers for Harper, what would fair value look like? What sort of trade would overwhelm the Nationals to the point where they would have no choice but to say yes?
1. Washington Nationals trade Bryce Harper and Zach Walters to the St. Louis Cardinals for Oscar Tavares, Trevor Rosenthal, and Carlos Martinez
If you’re going to make a franchise-altering trade, the Cardinals are the team to do it with. The Cards have a stable of young pitching that they appear to be able to replenish at will. They also have the number 2 prospect in baseball, who was hitting .306 at AAA Memphis before injuring his ankle, an injury that does not appear to affect his future outlook. Walters is a throw-in in the deal, as the Cardinals have a hole at shortstop and while Walters is defensively challenged, he can hit better than any of the Cardinals’ current options. This trade would be mutually beneficial; both teams would get an outfielder who could help their team win well into the next decade. While the Nationals would lose a known commodity in Harper (who has limitless potential, but at the very least, will be a 3 WAR player, barring injury), they would gain two fireballing pitching prospects, rated the 38th and 39th top prospects in the league by Baseball America. In fact, this trade may be skewed in favor of the Nationals, though I still think they would be the ones to say no.
2. Washington Nationals trade Bryce Harper and Michael Taylor to the Miami Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Nicolino
The Marlins have stated for years, even as they dismantled the rest of their team, that they would not trade Giancarlo Stanton. Well, this would be an offer the Marlins couldn’t refuse. In return for three years of Stanton, they would get five years of Harper. Stanton may have the track record — he did hit 37 home runs in just 449 at bats in 2012 — but a Harper for Stanton trade straight-up would clearly favor the Marlins. The prospect swap would help even things out, as in exchange for a disappointing but toolsy outfielder (the exact type of player the Marlins should be taking chances on), the Nationals would recieve the Marlins’ top pitching prospect, a lefty who gets his fastball into the low 90s, with superlative control. The The deal would of course be contingent on an extension for Stanton, who is still just 24 years old.
3. Washington Nationals trade Bryce Harper to the Minnesota Twins for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano
Let me preface this by stating that this deal makes absolutely no sense for either side. The Nationals are a contending ballclub looking to improve their present, while the Twins are a struggling team with little major league talent (outside of the oft-injured Joe Mauer). However, the question posed in the article is not about which trades would make sense, it’s about what would constitute fair value. This trade is the classic “two prospects for one established player” swap, on steroids. In exchange for Harper, the Nationals would receive Buxton and Sano, the 1st and 3rd top prospects in the sport respectively. Buxton, a centerfielder who has been compared favorably to Mike Trout, hit .344/.424/.520 this year in single-A, while hitting 12 homers and 18 triples, and making catches like this. Sano, meanwhile, was no slouch, hitting 35 homers across two levels while slugging .610. He has true 80 power (scouts grade on a 20-80 scale), and while his defense isn’t great, it is vastly improved from last year, when he made 42 errors. Magnitude aside, this is a pretty fair trade. Even though these two prospects are as cant-miss as they come, sometimes, even cant-miss prospects still miss. In exchange for a Hall of Fame talent already in the big leagues, the Nationals would receive two players who have that kind of talent, but haven’t realized it yet.
Of course, none of these trades stands even a remote possibility of occurring; the stakes are far too high for any team to pull the trigger. But I thought it an interesting exercise — determining what teams would give up to acquire the player who at age 15 was crowned “Baseball’s Lebron James,” a player with limitless potential.