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Nationals owner: I don’t expect Bryce Harper to come back to negotiating table

Bryce Harper, after years of anticipation, is a free-agent. (Arturo Pardavila III/Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Phillies lost out on free-agent LHP Patrick Corbin, who they were unwilling to sign to a deal in excess of five years. That cut-off hurt the Phillies chances of landing the two-time All-Star, as he ultimately signed a six-year deal with the division rival Washington Nationals. But could a cut-off point that the Nationals have in Bryce Harper negotiations ultimately help the Phillies to land the former National League MVP?

Per Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post, the six-time All-Star rejected a 10-year/$300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals on the final day of the 2018 regular season. Considering the deal didn’t include a no-trade clause – or as much total money as most expect Harper to get this offseason – some thought it was just the start of negotiations between Harper and the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft.

Apparently that wasn’t the case, though.

Friday, the Nationals introduced Corbin, who they signed to a six-year/$140 million contract, allowing him to join a rotation that already includes Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. After Corbin’s introductory press conference, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner suggested that the club’s offer to Harper wasn’t a starting point in negotiations, but rather a last-ditch attempt to see if they could retain the six-time All-Star before changing their focus in the offseason.

“Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, ‘This is the best we can do.’ We went right to the finish line very quickly,’ Lerner told Chris Lingebach of 106.7 The Fan. “And we said, ‘If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we’ll see whether we can finish it up.’ But we just couldn’t afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that.”

Though various outlets have suggested that Harper may still be keen on the idea of returning to D.C., Lerner said that after signing Corbin, the Nationals may not even be capable of signing Harper to the deal they initially offered him, let alone one with an increased salary.

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“If he comes back, it’s a strong possibility that we won’t be able to make it work. But I really don’t expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on. There’s just too much money out there that he’d be leaving on the table. That’s just not Mr. Boras’ MO to leave money on the table.”

Harper slashed .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs, 100 RBIs, 130 walks and a 3.5 fWAR in 2018. It was perhaps an underwhelming contract year for Harper, though he did hit .300 with 11 home runs, 46 RBIs and a .972 OPS after the All-Star Break. Considering he’s still only 26, it’s not hard to see how teams could convince themselves that Harper, perhaps the most recognizable figure in the sport, is worth a historic investment. After all, he won the 2015 National League MVP at age 22, while hitting .330 and posting an off-the-charts 9.3 fWAR. He was on track to be in the MVP discussion again in 2017, before he slipped on the first base bag at Nationals Park, limiting him to just 111 games.

At the outset of free-agency, Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projected that Harper would sign a 14-year/$420 million contract. A desire like that from Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, is probably a good indication that he’ll remain a free-agent past next week’s MLB Winter Meetings, which will take place in his hometown of Las Vegas. However, many of the game’s traditional big spenders either are altogether not interested in Harper or just monitoring his free-agency. The Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs aren’t players for Harper. The New York Yankees may have some level of interest, though given Giancarlo Stanton’s contractual situation, the price would likely have to drop significantly for Harper to end up in pinstripes. At this juncture, the same thing is likely true for the Nationals and the San Francisco Giants. That would appear to set the Phillies up in prime position to land Harper, if they ultimately choose to invest their resources in him over Manny Machado.

It is worth noting that 11 years ago, the Yankees said that if Alex Rodriguez, coming off of an MVP season, opted out of the final three years of his contract, they wouldn’t re-sign him. But when Rodriguez, who was also represented by Boras, reached free-agency, there weren’t as many aggressive pursuers as expected. Ultimately, the Yankees found $275 million and re-signed Rodriguez.

This situation feels different, though. The Nationals have shown a willingness to spend, but not at the same level as the Yankees. The Yankees also didn’t go out and sign another free-agent to a massive contract while they were waiting for Rodriguez’s situation to play out. Things are fluid this time of year, but it doesn’t appear Harper will return to Washington. Whether he ultimately ends up in Philadelphia or not, that’s likely a good development for the Phillies, as Harper’s long-term future is unlikely to be with another National League East foe.


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