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Do the Nats make the World Series with Bryce Harper?

washington nationalsThis time last year, Nats fans were consumed with what their team was going to do with star slugger Bryce Harper.

We knew by that point that the front office had offered him a 10-year, $300 million deal to stay on, and that he hadn’t taken the deal, that it would obviously take more, and the question was out there.

Would he be worth whatever it would take to keep him?

Big issue for the Nats being that they don’t have the TV money that being in a big market like DC should otherwise offer, because of the arrangement with the Orioles and MASN dating back to the machinations that allowed for the team to land in Washington in the first place.

As it turns out, the Nationals played the 2019 season with a $200.5 million luxury-tax payroll, fourth in MLB, so, not bad.

But that said, no, resources aren’t infinite, and the needs were pretty steep – a third and fourth starter, with the departures of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, second base, catcher, as always, the bullpen.

That, and you had Juan Soto, the runner-up in the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year race, and Victor Robles, who was actually rated a better prospect than Soto, though he missed 2018 due to injury.

You could try to replace Harper with Robles, and flip the money you would have given Harper to address as many of your other needs as you could, or you could sign Harper and deal Robles, and given that he would be under team control for a while, you could get a frontline starter or everyday player, maybe a prospect thrown in for good measure.

We all know what the Nats ended up doing, and that it ended up working out, as the team is preparing for its first-ever World Series appearance.

But is it the case that not signing Harper is the reason that the Nats are in the series?

A look at the wins above replacement metric would suggest … yes.

2019 Nats Free Agent Additions

  • Patrick Corbin, LHP 5.4 WAR
  • Anibal Sanchez, RHP 3.3 WAR
  • Yan Gomes, C 1.3 WAR
  • Kurt Suzuki, C 0.4 WAR
  • Brian Dozier, 2B 0.7 WAR


That’s 11.1 wins above replacement for a team that went 93-69 in the regular season in 2019, an 11-win improvement over the 82-80 finish in 2018.

Hmmm. Funny how that math works out.

Of course, Harper needs to be accounted for.

You might be surprised to learn that Harper only put up a 1.3 WAR number for Washington in 2018, or you may not be.

Harper actually isn’t a WAR darling. His MVP year, in 2015, was a 10.0 WAR year, but he was 1.5 WAR in 2016, 4.6 WAR in 2017, and for the Phillies in 2019, he was 4.2 WAR.

Reality is, he’s a good player, not a great player.

Such that Asdrubal Cabrera put up a 1.5 WAR in Washington in 2019 in just 38 games, and for pennies on the dollar in terms of what he was paid by the Nats – try $164,120, which is just crazy.

Even assume that Harper has his 4.2 WAR year in DC in 2019.

Wonder how Robles did in terms of WAR in 2019?


I’m going to stop short of saying the Nats are in the World Series because they didn’t re-sign Bryce Harper, because this analysis is all regular-season numbers, and so much can happen in the playoffs, as we’ve seen the past two weeks.

I will state, definitively, that the Nats aren’t in the playoffs if they sign Harper, and thus aren’t in a position to make any of the other moves that got them there.

So, bottom line, the Nats aren’t in the Series because they didn’t re-sign Harper, but they’re definitely not there if they had, if that helps.

Story by Chris Graham

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