Nationals And Bryce Harper Could End Up In Grievance Hearing

Jamie Squire

Washington Nationals' 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper, his agent, Scott Boras, and the Nats couldn't resolve an issue with the major league deal he signed in August of 2010. A Washington Post report this weekend revealed the opt-out issue.

"Some day there will be a player that will slip through the cracks because you just couldn't get the phone call in," Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo predicted in an MLB Network Radio interview with hosts Kevin Kennedy and Jim Duquette in August of 2010. "You had a deal and you couldn't get the phone call in and you lose a player because of it."

"If you look at his numbers, this guy's OPS, he's in the top of outfielders and playing a really good brand of baseball for us." - Mike Rizzo on Bryce Harper on 106.7 the FAN, September '13

A year after last-minute negotiations with the no.1 overall pick of 2009, Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals and their 2010 no.1 overall pick, Bryce Harper, had just taken negotiations on what ended up being a 5-year/$9.9M major league deal down to the wire, within 30 seconds of the mid-August deadline to sign that year's picks. Harper's agent, Scott Boras, in a separate MLB Network Radio interview that week, told the show's hosts the, "creativity that allowed the deal to get done was something that really arose in the last three minutes," before the midnight cutoff.

Harper was introduced to the nation's capital a week later. He debuted in the majors in April of 2012 at 19 years old, less than two years after signing. In two major league seasons, one which began late and a second in which he missed a month because of a knee injury, Harper has a combined .272/.353/.481 line, 50 doubles, 12 triples, 42 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 257 games and 1,094 plate appearances.

Washington Post Nats beat writer Adam Kilgore reported this weekend that because of an unresolved issue with Harper's initial contract, the young outfielder and the Nationals, "could find themselves on opposite sides of a legal dispute next offseason."

"It's an adjustment period for him and I think he's handling it well, playing through some injuries and playing extremely well." - Mike Rizzo on Bryce Harper on 106.7 the FAN in D.C., Sep '13

As the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore explains it, after the oral agreement on a deal was reached in August of 2010, "the Nationals insisted that the contract not contain a clause that would allow Harper to opt out of the contract terms and into baseball’s lucrative salary arbitration system once he was eligible; Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, was equally adamant that the virtually standard opt-out clause be included." The clause is fairly standard, the WaPost reporter notes elsewhere in the article, with 2011 Nats' 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon receiving one in his own major league deal.

When the opt-out clause Boras and Harper wanted was left out of the "final written contract" the agent and his player refused to sign it and MLB and MLBPA got involved, with the situation settled, "by a letter of agreement stating that, if Harper qualified for salary arbitration before he reached the end of the contract, a grievance hearing would determine whether he could opt out of his contract."

With Harper performing as he has thus far and headed for Super Two status, he would likely make significantly more than the $1.5M he's set to make in 2015 under the current contract, with the Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore projecting, "a 2015 salary between $4 million and $7 million through arbitration were he eligible." So the previously unreported contract issue is now something the two sides are discussing. The WaPost reporter offers several scenarios for how the situation could be resolved without a grievance hearing taking place.

The Nationals could simply allow Harper to opt out and go to arbitration. They could agree on a long-term deal. Harper's 21 years old now. He's expected to be 100% at the start of Spring Training after undergoing surgery to "debride and repair" the bursa sac in his knee which cause the bursitis that plagued him throughout most of the 2013 campaign. He's got +4.5 and +3.8 fWAR seasons, two All-Star selections and an NL Rookie of the Year award on his resume. Harper's decision to leave high school early, get his GED, get into the Draft as quickly as possible, and get himself picked no.1 overall (before the rules of the Draft changed), looks better and better all the time.

• Read the entire Washington Post report:

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