WASHINGTON — The big Bryce Harper headline this week is that he will not be commenting on his contract situation this season, which the media and fans respected by opening the floodgates on speculation.
That was to be expected, as the Lerners have known for years that Harper and super agent Scott Boras would test free agency. That’s not really news.
A far more interesting nugget to come out of his Monday press conference is that Harper was consulted by general manger Mike Rizzo before signing the team’s new coaching staff this offseason (emphasis added)
“I was excited,” Harper said, when asked about new hitting coach Kevin Long. “Got a call from Rizzo earlier in the offseason and he talked about [manager] Davey [Martinez] and the staff and who I wanted and what I thought about the guys that he was looking at, and was really excited to put Kevin Long’s name out there. When he talked about that, I was like, ‘Wow.'”
If Harper was speaking from the heart and Rizzo was actually asking him who he wanted (instead of telling him who he was getting), then it shows that the power dynamic in the Nats’ organization runs through locker No. 34.
And why not?
It’s foolish to think that star players aren’t considered when hiring coaches, in terms of scheme, personality and overall fit. But even when players make a lot more money than the coaches, it’s still surprising to think that they get to hire their own bosses.
It puts the “tail wagging the dog” economics of professional sports out there in the spotlight.
That aside, this could be good news for Nationals fans creeping ever closer to the edge. The Nats, who have been speculated as also-rans in the impending Harper Sweepstakes, would not consult with Harper (on a one-year deal) about a manager (signed to a three-year deal) or his staff if they didn’t have a chance to retain him.
Rizzo is approaching this situation optimistically, like the choice of coach might give him an extra ounce of leverage in retaining a generational talent.
Then again, maybe Rizzo already had his staff and was making Harper feel important, or Harper misspoke in his conversation with the media. Either way, in a long season of speculation, this is a fun place to start.