Deal could reach $400 million
With Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings set to kick off next week, teams in the hunt for a big name player are preparing their portfolios and adjusting their payrolls for the big push. This year, with most closely watching the Philadelphia Phillies, perhaps no team is at a bigger crossroads than the Washington Nationals.
Superstar Bryce Harper is a free agent ready to entertain offers from around the league, and while some of baseball’s richest teams are rumored to be preparing offers, sources close to the Washington Nationals suggest that the team that drafted and developed Harper will do anything to keep the slugger out of the hands of the rival Philadelphia Phillies.
The sources suggest that Washington will be willing to go as high as a 12-year, 400 million dollar deal. Like the blockbuster contract given to Giancarlo Stanton, the contract would be mostly back-loaded, with no indication as of yet whether there would be any opt-out clauses.
At the end of the season, the Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, 300 million dollar contract that would have provided Harper the highest Average Annual Value of any contract in MLB history. Opting instead to test the market, Harper declined the offer. Early on there was much suggestion that the Nationals had already made their best offer, but with talk that Philadelphia could break the bank for the outfielder, that has changed.
There has already been an opening salvo in what is sure to be an offseason battle between Philadelphia and Washington, with the Nationals landing starting pitcher Patrick Corbin despite a lot of competition and promises earlier in the week that Philadelphia would not be outbid.
Of course, Washington and Philadelphia aren’t nearly the only suitors for Harper’s services. Rumors throughout the offseason have linked the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers to the star outfielder, with the San Francisco Giants also considered a team to potentially watch out for.
Harper is from Las Vegas, but for his part has made any preferences unclear to the public. He could want to go closer to home, or he could value the team the Nationals have built around him and the devotion they’ve given to him. He could instead opt for the bright lights of New York or Chicago, and of course with Philadelphia flush with money the Phillies are listed as among the frontrunners.
Complicating matters, Philadelphia signing Harper would likely take them out of the running to sign Mike Trout when the Angels’ star hits free agency before long. The phenom from South Jersey, Trout is well-known as a Philadelphia sports fan who routinely attends Eagles games and has hinted about wanting to play in front of his hometown fans.
Washington has also made a point to stay in close touch with agent Scott Boras, who represents Harper, trying to get through to one of the toughest negotiators in all of sports. Boras typically instructs his clients to test free agency no matter what, but Stephen Strasburg was so bowled over by the Nationals’ offers for a contract extension that he became an exception. The Nationals have picked up multiple other Boras clients as well, making sure that when the time came to negotiate for the biggest star the young franchise has ever had, the agent was on good terms.
The Harper negotiations have only just begun, with teams still lining up for his services, but with up to $400 million in the Nationals’ reserve for Harper, the outfielder might just wind up back where he started.