Report: Nationals ownership vetoed Harper trade to Houston at deadline

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/was" data-ylk="slk:Washington Nationals">Washington Nationals</a> <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8875/" data-ylk="slk:Bryce Harper">Bryce Harper</a>, looks at the baseball field from their dug out before the start of the Nationals last home game of the season against the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/mia" data-ylk="slk:Miami Marlins">Miami Marlins</a> in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Washington Nationals Bryce Harper, looks at the baseball field from their dug out before the start of the Nationals last home game of the season against the Miami Marlins in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

As the 2018 MLB trade deadline approached, all eyes were on the Washington Nationals as the franchise was teetering between selling and buying. Superstar outfielder Bryce Harper’s contract was up at the end of the year and plenty of teams would’ve been happy to bid on him for a postseason run. Instead, the team made no major moves in either direction.

Hours before the deadline passed, Washington general manager Mike Rizzo reached out to Nationals beat writer Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post to announce Harper was unavailable to other clubs. Rizzo stated emphatically that he believed in his team.

Except now we’re learning that wasn’t exactly the case. In a new piece from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal it appears one day before Rizzo’s declaration that the Nationals were standing firm, Washington had a deal in place to send Harper to the Houston Astros for a package of prospects that would’ve helped restock the Nats’ farm system. When it came time for Rizzo to get approval on trading his franchise player, Washington’s ownership balked and the deal effectively died.

The deal, according to Rosenthal, would’ve sent prospects J.B. Bukauskas, and possibly catcher Garrett Stubbs, along with two other minor leaguers to the Nationals for Harper. Bukauskas and Stubbs represent two of the Astros’ top 15 prospects. The Nationals will receive just a fourth-round pick in 2019 as compensation if Harper signs with another team this offseason as a free agent. 

Harper turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer to stay in Washington at the end of the season, so a return to the Nationals seems unlikely at this point.

It’s important to take all of this with a large grain of salt. Deals are discussed between GMs frequently and there are plenty of good reasons why they never go further than exploratory phone calls. In Harper’s case, there would’ve been no way to make a deal without ownership signing off, and it’s hard to say why the Nationals’ brass felt this wasn’t the right decision.

However, it’s also hard to keep an open mind about a deal like this with the benefit of hindsight. It shows that Rizzo was taking offers for Harper and it got serious enough to run it up to his bosses. After stating “I believe in this team,” the Nats fell even further in the standings and ended up moving Daniel Murphy and Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs, Gio Gonzalez to the Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Madson to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Shawn Kelley to the Oakland Athletics.

Had the Nationals chosen to sell earlier, perhaps the haul for Harper would’ve been more than enough to convince ownership to trade him.

At 26 years old, Harper could end up receiving a contract near $400 million in free agency. The Nationals, meanwhile, are looking for a path forward after six years with one of the best players in baseball left them with just four playoff appearances — none going further than the first round.

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Blake Schuster is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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