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Bryce Harper trade rumors are dead; long live Bryce Harper trade rumors

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says Harper isn’t going anywhere. We should believe him.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Last night at around 11 p.m. ET, Mark Feinsand dropped the bombshell that the Nationals are shopping Bryce Harper. While reporters acted calmly, the rest of the internet was set ablaze. Harper to the Indians? Harper to the Yankees? Harper to the A’s?

Less than 12 hours later, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post talked to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who emphatically stated that Harper isn’t going anywhere.

Our job today is to see if we believe him. Let’s grade the rumor that Harper isn’t going anywhere.

This post will have the lifespan of a mayfly, so we’ll have to be quick. There are reasons to trade Harper. There are good reasons to trade him. He’s a pending free agent. And while the Nationals’ farm system isn’t bare, every team can use an infusion of prospects, and Harper would bring back a bigger return from another team right now than whatever the Nats could expect to get from draft picks if he left in free agency. They’re looking to re-sign Harper and get some of those hometown fuzzies, but the agent in question is Scott Boras. He doesn’t do hometown fuzzies, so the advantage is lost.

But there are reasons to keep him, though. There is something to be said for the continuity of keeping a potential Hall of Famer* in the organization as you try to sign him to a 10-year-deal. The ideal scenario for a situation like this is the Aroldis Chapman trade, in which the Yankees dealt their closer, got a franchise cornerstone in return, and then signed Chapman back that offseason.

* If you’re gonna yell at me and cite four months of batting average as evidence that the previous six years don’t mean anything, take a walk around the block or something

That scenario is incredibly rare, though. Boras seems to have a way of going with the team offering the most money, which means the minor offense of trading a player away shouldn’t affect the negotiations much, but it’s almost like there’s something psychological about a team dealing a player away at the deadline. We’re going in a different direction, it seems to say. One that doesn’t involve you. Now go on, git.

Perhaps the most salient argument against a Harper trade is that the Nationals would want too much, and rightly so. If he’s really a .220 hitter now, it would be one of the greatest collapses in baseball history, and other teams know that it’s far likelier that he’ll improve. The Nats would still be selling low, though. To the point where it’s not a given that the compensatory draft picks would be a huge step down.

Then there’s the matter where the Nationals are still pretty freaking good. Maybe not by record, but when it comes to raw talent. FanGraphs still gives them a solid chance at the postseason, even if they’re a game under .500. The Braves and Phillies are talented and young, which might be the blessing-curse the Nationals need to sneak back in the race. It would take a winning streak, possibly a fortuitously timed series sweep. But it’s possible.

Mostly, though, it’s the message that trading Harper would send. You follow baseball in the internet. You’re in the bubble. It’s nice here. There’s tea and finger sandwiches. But a huge, huge swath of the general ticket-buying population are completely oblivious about the granular details that go into a decision like this. They don’t think about team control and the value of pre-arbitration prospects or Scott Boras or FanGraphs postseason odds. They just think things like ...

Man, they traded Bryce Harper? Guess this team is done for. End of an era.

If that seems hyperbolic, have another finger sandwich. I’ve interacted with Giants fans who are hardcore enough to stay up past midnight to watch two giggling idiots talk about their team, but still oblivious enough to ask questions like, “Should the Giants trade Hunter Pence for prospects?” This is the very silent majority, and they’re both very silent and very much a majority. Trading Harper for anything but the best prospects wouldn’t be worth it.

The Nationals aren’t getting the best prospects for Harper.

They listened. They were right to listen. They didn’t get the offer they wanted. Now it’s our turn to listen when the GM says that Harper isn’t going anywhere. I’ll give the rumor that the Nats aren’t trading him a solid A. If another team wants to come over the top and shovel prospects at the Nationals because Harper is the missing piece, hey, that’s a lot of fun.

It’s not going to happen, though. Welcome to the new Nationals, same as the old Nationals.