Bryce Harper
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Nationals reportedly vetoed Astros trade offer for Bryce Harper in July

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While there’s been no recent clarity on where free agent superstar Bryce Harper might be headed next spring, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros came very close to completing a trade for the slugger at the non-waiver deadline in July.

According to Rosenthal’s column (subscription required), Houston had offered their eighth-best prospect, right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, and two minor-league players in exchange for Harper’s services. Although the terms of the trade were worked out by July 30, Nationals’ ownership ultimately nixed the deal in the hopes that the team would close the 5.5-game gap at the top of the division and make another postseason run, hopes that were subsequently dashed by the Braves’ late-season surge to their 18th division title.

Following the club’s second-place finish in the NL East, Harper declined the Nationals’ proposed 10-year, $300 million extension. He’s all but guaranteed to decline their one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer as well, given the record-breaking contract he’s in line to receive on the open market. Should he latch onto another team, as expected, the Nats will receive a compensatory pick following the fourth round of the 2019 MLB Draft next June.

Even given the 26-year-old’s struggles in 2018, it’s hard not to imagine the impact his .249/.393/.496 batting line, 34 home runs, and 3.5 fWAR could have had on the defending World Champions’ playoff run, especially as they came so close to securing another berth in the Fall Classic last month. There’s still a possibility the Astros could circle back to Harper over the winter, though they’re currently projected to head into the 2019 season with George Springer, Josh Reddick, Tony Kemp, and Jake Marisnick, among a few others.

Padres may have more interest in Dallas Keuchel than Bryce Harper

Dallas Keuchel
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An interesting tidbit today from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who noted that ongoing talks between agent Scott Boras and the Padres have focused more on starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel than slugger Bryce Harper. Earlier this week, there were conflicting reports on the Padres’ level of interest in Harper — MLB Network’s Jon Heyman heard the club had not ruled out another big signing after getting Manny Machado, while Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune talked to multiple sources who believed otherwise — but any agreement between the two is looking unlikelier by the day.

As for Keuchel, Rosenthal cautions that a potential deal is still a “longshot,” especially as the team has other, cheaper options in mind. The 31-year-old southpaw turned down a qualifying offer from the Astros last year and is likely angling for something north of the five-year, $90 million contract extension he rejected from the club in 2016. He’s coming off of another solid performance in Houston, where he went 12-11 in 34 starts with a 3.74 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9, and 3.6 fWAR through 204 2/3 innings in 2018.

While Keuchel has failed to garner substantial interest around the league this offseason, Heyman points out that the Phillies are looking to establish themselves as frontrunners for the lefty — and they’re far less likely to have hang-ups about his asking price, too.