The Nationals and Bryce Harper are engaging in a delicate media tug-of-war with the superstar slugger’s walk year looming.
Harper, 25, is set to hit free agency after the 2018 season. Scott Boras tends to make sure his clients reach the open market, and many believe that will be the case with Harper, who could prove to be the most lucrative client Boras has ever represented.
But no one has publicly ruled out Harper negotiating a new contract with Washington before he hits free agency.
With Winter Meetings underway in Orlando, Nationals GM and President of Baseball Ops. Mike Rizzo told reporters this week “we’re not going to discuss what we’re going to do with Harp, other than we love having him in the organization.”
Boras says he met with Nats ownership about a month ago for “preliminary discussions” about Harper’s contract.
On Wednesday, both Rizzo and Boras discussed Harper’s future through various media outlets.
“We’re gonna explore it, for sure,” Rizzo told Chris Russo on MLB Network’s High Heat. “I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t discuss it. We’ve got rights to talk to him when nobody else can while we have him under contract.”
“He’s a special player. I’ve got a great relationship with him,” he said. “The city has embraced him. I’ve known him since he was 16 years old. We drafted him, signed him, developed him, gave him the freedom to be himself and he’s blossomed under our watch. He’s an impact player that is gonna be well sought after if he hits the open market, but he’s ours, he’s under control and we’re going to utilize that time.”
“Do you agree that if you let him go to the open market, it’ll be a lot harder to get him signed?” Russo asked.
“We’re going to investigate it. We have rights to him,” Rizzo said. “We have individual rights to talk to him this year while he’s under contract and we’ve got a good relationship with him, so that all helps us with the communication aspect. It’s gonna come down to dollars and cents. We know that. It’s gonna have to make sense for him; it’s gonna have to make sense for us, if there’s something to get done.”
“But the bottom line is you’re not giving up home that he’s gonna be a National for the rest of his career,” Russo followed up.
“I am not giving up hope,” said Rizzo. “He’s a beloved guy in this city. He likes playing there. We’ve got a relationship with me and the ownership group and I’m certainly not giving up hope.”
Around this same time, Boras was asked during an appearance on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio if Harper will be the highest-paid player in Major League Baseball history.
“I think he’ll draw some interest,” Boras said, drawing laughter from the hosts. “I think that there may be a potential fit in the baseball world. The thing I think about players that are so unique, the iconic part, is that when you look at the future of an organization, you have to say, ‘Well, I’m gonna invest in this player because he’s gonna perform for me.’
“Well, there are a few players in the Major Leagues where they are iconic. They immediately pay for themselves with branding, with television ratings increase, advertising sales, increase in attendance, increase in ticket prices, where immediately by having that player on your team, you are getting a value, frankly, that exceeds anything you pay him to perform.”
“These are rare jewels or gifts of the game,” he said. “It’s tremendous business to do it. It’s been proven that they bring tremendous value to franchises, they increase franchise value. So the attraction here is not only do you help your team-winning goals, not only do you help your team in the whole, but you really are purchasing an iconic asset in sport that business-wise is probably going to be the best business decision you’ve ever made.”
Asked if Harper has a timetable to decide his future, Boras said, “You know, my philosophy is — just like with Stras — I just listen. You want to hear what they have to say, because you want to give the player as much information as he can.”
“Bryce is one of the smartest superstars I’ve ever been associated with,” he said. “He is really, really good at information. He has a strong academic mind and he is someone where you can really get, I think, an informed decision out of him by bringing him information.”
“So the Nationals want to talk to us about it,” he said. “We’ve talked to him a bit about it and looked at it, and that’s kind of where we go and then these things are up to Bryce as to what he does.”
Russo also asked Rizzo if having a good relationship with Boras gives the Nationals an advantage.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Rizzo said. “I think having a good relationship with anybody, I don’t think it’s ever a disadvantage. I don’t think it’s much of an advantage, because the market’s gonna be the market and these players that we’re talking about, they’re wanted by a lot of different teams.”
“Relationships with agents are important because you get information, and our relationship with the Boras Corporations is well-documented,” he said. “But we’ve got good relationships with a lot of different agencies because there’s players at all different agencies that we would like to acquire.”
Baseball’s Winter Meetings will be held in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas in 2018.