Nationals

Nationals

After the hype and energy surrounding the always-frenetic Winter Meetings, the weeks leading into and coming out of Christmas tend to be a slower time for MLB’s Hot Stove season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds took a hammer to that idea Friday afternoon, pulling off a major trade in which several expensive players switched teams, and as a result, the Dodgers look like more realistic players in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.

On the surface, it looks like a bit of a salary dump for the Dodgers, who get out from what they owed the aging Matt Kemp and avoid arbitration raises for Puig and Wood. Downs and Gray are also legitimate prospects, with the former a top-10 minor leaguer in the Reds’ system prior to the trade.

The biggest non-financial reason why this move is interesting, specifically in regards to the Nationals, is what it could mean for Bryce Harper.

Early on, the Dodgers were one of the betting favorites to land the slugging outfielder, and even earlier in December there were plenty of clear connections between Harper and Los Angeles.

 

The Dodgers checked several boxes: prestige, the chance to win now, and a major market all come to mind. The two biggest question marks were money, which they have more to work with now, and roster construction. Outfield didn’t exactly look like a need.

It still doesn't stand out as a “need,” but there’s certainly a clearer fit to add a major player with Kemp and Puig no longer a part of the equation. Of the current expected outfielders in Los Angeles, Cody Bellinger, Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor can also play the infield, and in some cases, are probably better suited on dirt than grass.

Joc Pederson is the only pure outfielder, though Alex Verdugo is an elite hitting prospect and appears ready for an everyday role in a big league outfield. Even he could be on the move, if the Dodgers are serious about a run at J.T. Realmuto of the Marlins.

Either way, it leaves an open spot for Harper to slide right in and team up with Bellinger to provide one of the best power-hitting lefty duos in the sport.

It’s no guarantee, however, and despite the optics of how Harper would easily fit in the City of Angels, it’s probably going a step too far to call them the favorites at this point.

As some MLB writers have noted, the Dodgers love having flexibility, both with their roster and with their financials, and a 10-year contract for someone like Harper is more takes away that flexibility.

Ultimately, this will only boost the rumors of Harper heading to Los Angeles, though it’s far from a done deal. The Dodgers don’t want to go into the luxury tax, but as they wouldn't be repeat offenders, it wouldn't be a major financial hit. The Dodgers are also maybe the wealthiest franchise in the sport, so if they want to spend the money, they have the means.

Even if the Dodgers don’t wind up with Harper, this move sets them up to make a splash elsewhere, whether via a follow up trade or a free agent signing. This move impacts the Nats in that way as well, as Washington hopes to contend again this season, and the two-time defending National League champs are set to improve their roster yet again.

Nats fans shouldn't write off a Harper return just yet, but with every passing day, the teams in the hunt for the superstar continue to change, and now the Dodgers are in a better spot than they were a week ago.

 

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