In a late season interview on ESPN980, which Washington Post writer Scott Allen transcribed, Bryce Harper's agent, Scott Boras, talked about understanding the angst among some fans in the nation's capital when it comes to the 2010 no.1 overall pick's long-term future with the Washington Nationals.
Harper, 23, and on the verge of winning the NL MVP award after a .330/.460/.649, 38 double, 42 HR, 9.5 fWAR season, is set to make $5M in the second year of the 2-year/$7.5M contract he signed in December of 2014.
He's arbitration-eligible in 2017-18 and then he can potentially become a free agent after the 2018 campaign:
"The steps he’s taken this year in his approach and what he’s done, we continue to see [his] maturation and understanding of the league," Boras said. "So, you’ve got an intellect and you’ve got a remarkable athlete, then certainly you can understand why a team and a region that gets to see Bryce day in and day out, they would want him. I would say that the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo, I’ve never heard anything from them that suggests that they don’t appreciate everything that Bryce Harper does and [they] understand who he is, and understand his value and, as time goes on, there’s obviously economic decisions to make and we’ll see what’s ahead for Bryce."
As the WaPost writer noted, some of the angst among Nationals fans was flamed by an article ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote during Washington's trip to New York in early June when he talked about the inevitability of Harper one day becoming a Yankee.
Harper ending up with the Yankees he grew up cheering for, Olney wrote, "seems inevitable," in large part because New York is likely to clear a significant amount of payroll before Harper hits free agency, assuming he doesn't agree on an extension with the Nationals beforehand:
"Assuming that owner Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t dive back into the market for three or four A-Rod type contracts between now and 2018, the Yankees should finally have control of their credit card debt by the time Harper hits the market. By then, Harper’s price could be north of $40 million a year, so long as he stays healthy, and there may not be a player since Jackson more perfectly built for Yankee Stadium – a left-handed slugger who could damage record books driving balls to right field."
While noting that the Nationals have what might be the "wealthiest ownership in the sport," and, "will do what they can to keep Harper," as he sees it, Olney writes that, "any forecaster with any sense of the player and the franchise would tell you: It would be shocking if Harper isn’t wearing a Yankees uniform on Opening Day in 2019."
So will the Nationals try to sign Harper to an extension before he gets closer to free agency or even possibly before Opening Day 2016?
FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi asked Nats' GM Mike Rizzo that question at the GM Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.
"We want Bryce to be here for a long, long time," Rizzo told the FOXSports.com reporter.
"He’s a guy I’ve seen play forever, it seems — since he was 14. He’s a guy we drafted, signed, developed, and he’s turned into an MVP-type player for us.
"We love the guy. We’ve got him locked in for the near future. We certainly would love for him to be a National for life."
With free agency just three years away, however, many would argue that this winter, or next winter would be the ideal time to talk extension before Harper gets within a year of free agency and the possibility of testing the market, so, Morosi asked, "is there urgency to complete the deal before the two-year windown immediately preceding free agency?":
"We’ve got him for the near future," Rizzo answered. "I think he likes being in D.C. He likes playing for the Nationals. He loves the city of D.C. I think that bodes well for us."
Homegrown stars Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond just became free agents after failing to agree on long-term extensions with the Nationals in spite of negotiations at multiple points over the last few seasons and '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg is headed for free agency after the 2016 campaign, with little or no talk of an extension thus far. So what will happen with Harper going forward... and how high will the Nationals have to go to convince him to sign on long-term and foresake an early shot at a lucrative free agent deal?