The Astros were so very close to pulling off one of the biggest trade acquisitions in recent memory.
As I detailed here back in early November, the Astros were rumored to have a trade in place to acquire Bryce Harper from the Nationals before the July 31st trade deadline. Although it wasn’t confirmed by the Astros at the time, the originator of the rumor, Ken Rosenthal ofThe Athletic, is also one of the most reliable sources within the industry today. The trade, in essence, would’ve shifted some of the postseason narrative surrounding Houston, even if the end result was still the same.
Fast forward to Spring Training in mid-February and Jeff Luhnow straight up confirmed that a trade was in place to acquire Harper from Washington.
Per Rosenthal back in November, the Astros were willing to send three minor league prospects to the Nationals for Harper: right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, catcher Garrett Stubbs, and a lower level prospect. All in all, it was a fair trade offer for Harper, who entered free agency this offseason. Washington would’ve recouped more value than a compensation draft pick while Luhnow wouldn’t have to part ways multiple top prospects in exchange for a boost in the postseason.
Although Mike Rizzo, the general manager of the Nationals, agreed to the trade, it was reported that team ownership prevented the consummation of the deal. It was likely that ownership, led by Ted Lerner, viewed a trade could harm any chance that Washington had of resigning Harper in the offseason. Harper is still a free-agent today, but the Phillies appear to be the likely front runners for his services. The 26-year old All-Star reportedly turned down a ten-year, $300 million contract from the Nationals last fall.
At this point, there is no sense in crying over spilt milk. Sure, Harper would’ve been a nice upgrade in the lineup and outfield, especially with the injuries to Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa taken into consideration. Houston was far from full strength in the postseason, but nothing can be done about that now.
Unless Harper is open to a short-term contract for a high annual value, it is quite unlikely that the Astros are players for him in free agency. Luhnow stated that the Astros have moved on, so it doesn’t appear Harper will be an option going forward. At the same time, it is encouraging to see the front office try to improve through notable means, which signifies that the Astros are willing to part ways with younger talent in the right deals.