Don’t throw your Washington Nationals No. 34 Bryce Harper jersey away just yet. While all signs in the last few months pointed towards the 26-year-old free agent outfielder signing with a new team this winter, the rumor pendulum is swinging back towards the Nationals, with the 2010 No. 1 overall pick and the only team he’s known thus far, continuing to talk.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote this morning, “Harper has met multiple times with representatives of the Washington Nationals, according to a club source, and the possibility of a return to the place he spent the first seven years of his career persists, despite Nationals owner Mark Lerner’s insistence that Washington would not stretch beyond the $300 million offer Harper rejected near season’s end.”
So he’s saying there’s a chance?
Mr. Lerner, of course, told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier that he thought Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, had moved on from the Nats as a possibility after turning down what was reportedly a 10-year/$300M offer toward the end of the 2018 campaign.
“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 the show’s hosts.
“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 further than that.”
Lerner went on to say that after the Nationals made a number of moves, while Harper tried to decide on a home for the next decade or so, that initial offer might not even be possible at this point.
Recent payroll addition/speculation has the Nationals approximately $14M under the luxury tax threshold, which they’ve passed in each of the last two seasons. Would they blow by it to bring Harper back?
“I really don’t expect him to come back at this point,” the Nationals’ owner added in the early December interview.
“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.”
Asked about Mr. Lerner’s comments at the Winter Meetings, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, “nothing has changed with Harp since the end of the season except that we’re, I think, a better team than we were at the end of the season, but we’re not closing the door on anybody.”
“We’re not going to close the door on anybody,” Rizzo reiterated, “and like I said, we’re not going to speculate on who we’re going to negotiate with or who we’re going to talk to, but we’re not closing the door on Harper and we’re going to leave ourselves open to a lot of different things and do it a lot of different ways.”
Following Passan’s report at ESPN this morning, Washington Post beat writer Chelsea Janes wrote this afternoon that, “... [a]ccording to a person with direct knowledge of Harper’s process, the 26-year-old and his agent, Scott Boras, met with Nationals owner Ted Lerner for five hours on the Saturday before Christmas.”
Boras, you might remember, responded indirectly to Mr. Lerner’s comments by explaining at the Winter Meetings that he didn’t think Mark Lerner spoke for the entire organization, while noting, as paraphrased by the WaPost reporter, that “when he makes big deals, he makes them with Mark’s father, Ted — and history supports his point.”
Fancred’s Jon Heyman too wrote on Twitter today that the Nationals shouldn’t be counted out as an option for Harper just yet, and in confirming Janes’ report of the recent meeting, added that it, “... is thought to have been a good meeting, too, fwiw.”
Harper is also, according a report from Philadelphia Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury, set to meet with the Nationals’ NL East rivals from the City of Brotherly Love this week as well, so this should probably all be taken with a big FWIW at this point, but like we said at the start above, don’t throw that Harper No. 34 jersey or shirsey away just jet...