Even if the Washington Nationals trade Bryce Harper on Tuesday, their window of opportunity for winning won't necessarily close. They have Max Scherzer, the reigning Cy Young Award winner and one of the favorites to win that honor again this year. They have outfielder Juan Soto, who might win NL Rookie of the Year. They have third baseman Anthony Rendon, shortstop Trea Turner and talented outfielder Victor Robles.
But an era would end with Harper's departure -- an era in which the Nationals had great expectations about winning multiple championships around the excellence of Harper and Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals of these years will join the 1994 Montreal Expos, the 2001 Seattle Mariners and others as one of the greatest collections of talent that never won the World Series.
Nobody has valued Bryce Harper more than Washington general manager Mike Rizzo; nobody has championed Harper more than Rizzo; nobody has protected Harper more than Rizzo. So for Rizzo, a trade of Harper would have to be excruciating, a tangible acknowledgment that the blueprint never came together in the way he had envisioned.
If the Nationals trade Harper on Tuesday, these are the teams for which he could make the most sense:
The Indians have been looking for an outfielder -- a right-handed-hitting outfielder -- but presumably, they could live with the left-handed-hitting Harper, who could bat cleanup behind Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley and Jose Ramirez. That group would provide incredible run-producing opportunities for Harper. Cleveland would also have to be OK with Harper's defense in center field, during a year in which his glove work has suffered.
Harper will make about $7 million over the last two months of this season; presumably, any deal the Indians execute would have to include significant offset dollars from the Nationals, who would get better prospects in return if they ate salary.
2. Chicago Cubs
Because of Kris Bryant's recurring left-shoulder problem, he may not be fully healthy again this year, and he may not provide the same kind of power he has in the past. If the Cubs put together a prospect package in addition to a major leaguer (Speculation: Albert Almora Jr.? Ian Happ?), maybe they could be the team to pry Harper away from the Nationals. As a rental, Harper could thrive, launching himself into free agency.
They've already made the biggest acquisition of the summer in trading for Manny Machado, and with a lot of chips pushed into the middle of the table, maybe they tempt the Nationals with an offer built around a young pitcher (Yadier Alvarez, perhaps, or maybe Julio Urias) and another piece or two. The Dodgers could try to include Yasiel Puig in a move, or maybe Washington would like the inclusion of the recently resurgent Joc Pederson.
But imagine a Dodgers lineup that looks like this down the stretch and into October:
It would be formidable.
The Diamondbacks have been playing better and are just a half-game behind the Dodgers in the NL West as the day begins. A move for Harper could be similar to the deal they made last year for J.D. Martinez, who helped to drive the Diamondbacks into the postseason. Harper would slot nicely into the D-backs' lineup between the right-handed-hitting Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock -- or Arizona could hit Harper in the No. 2 spot ahead of that duo. Other clubs see Arizona as a team with a window to win now. The question that would hover over any Nationals-Diamondbacks talks would be whether Washington would identify something at the top of the Arizona farm system that could work as a target. As the Orioles went through trade talks for Machado, they found the Diamondbacks' group of prospects lacking.
Oakland Athletics: Rizzo and Oakland honcho Billy Beane have made many, many trades together; they work well, they can move fast. And Oakland has a real shot to overtake Seattle and/or Houston in the AL West.