Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked at length, when he visited with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week, about the 10-year/$300M offer the Nationals made to Bryce Harper during the last homestand of the 2018 campaign. Rizzo was asked about the details of the offer and what sort of discussions took place with the 26-year-old, 2010 No. 1 overall pick, who ended up signing with the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies on a 13-year/$330M deal on March 2nd.
In addition to that late-season offer, before he hit free agency, the Nationals were reported to have met with Harper and his agent around Christmas, but early in December, after the Nats signed Patrick Corbin to a 6-year/$140M deal and made a few other moves that made Harper’s return to D.C. seem unlikely, Managing Principal Owner Mark Lerner said he didn’t see anything getting worked out with Harper. Did they ever increase their offer? Did Harper and Co. try to circle back before taking the Phillies’ offer?
There were comments up until he signed on in the City of Brotherly Love about not closing the door on a potential Harper return, and Rizzo reiterated last week that that was the case.
“We met with Bryce a couple of times during the season, at the tail end of the season,” Rizzo explained.
“Our thought process was this: We wanted to keep him and so our strategy was we have exclusivity to negotiate with him until the first day of free agency and then he becomes a free agent to everybody. So we felt that our best way to not only try and lock him down but to then know what the landscape looks [like] going forward as far as the offseason, who we can go after and that type of thing, what our financials look like. Our best chance to do that was to try and sign him before the free agent deadline.
“So we talked to him a few times with ownership and myself right there — I spoke to him personally a couple times and at the last home game of the season we made him this proposal and this offer, to [him] and his agent, and we had to put an expiration date on it because we couldn’t let that linger on until March 2nd, when he signed, and try and get the rest of our business done.
“So we fired what I thought was an extremely market-valued, aggressive offer as our primary offer and put an expiration date on it.
“That wasn’t to say after the first day of free agency we weren’t going to discuss it again, but certainly when the Patrick Corbin signing took place, then it became more difficult, then we had to really process it amongst ownership and that type of thing of where we were, and where we were going, but we never closed the door on him.”
Did the Nationals’ initial offer (10/$300M) ever change? Was it ever increased as some reports suggested?
“It was a $300 million deal over 10 years and there was some money deferred,” Rizzo said.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics of it, but it was a real aggressive opening offer to a great player . . . “
And Harper and Co.’s response to the offer? Did they counter or share their thoughts?
“That’s part of their negotiation,” Rizzo said. “They never told us what their feelings were towards it. They did not counter on it at all.”
Harper hadn’t shared his thoughts about the Nationals’ offer publicly either, until recently, when he spoke to ESPN’s Tim Keown for a feature that was published on Monday.
Multiple reports in the last weeks noted that the Nats’ offer included significant amounts of deferred money, and from what he told ESPN’s reporter, that didn’t make much sense to the outfielder.
“Washington, where Harper was an MVP, rookie of the year and a six-time All-Star, made a 10-year, $300 million offer in October. ‘I grew up in front of those fans and that city, and I enjoyed every minute of it,’ Harper says. ‘But I didn’t know if I fit into their plans. About $100 million of that contract was deferred ‘til I was 65 years old.’ He stops and turns his palms to the sky in disbelief. Few people can turn down a $100 million retirement fund; Bryce is one. ‘It’s like, ‘What does that do for me? What does that do for my family?’”
Approximately $70M of Stephen Strasburg’s 7-year/$175M is deferred, “... without interest ($30M in 2019, $10M in 2020, $30M in 2023), paid in seven $10M installments each July 1, 2024-30, reducing the contract’s present-day value to about $162M,” according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
The deferred money in Max Scherzer’s 6-year/$210M deal with the Nats, “... reduce[d] [the] contract’s present-day value to $191,401,086 (by MLB calculation) or $191,409,858 (MLBPA calculation).”
Scherzer will continue to earn money through 2028 with the $15M installments starting in 2022, the year after the sixth season of his deal.
Those are just two of several recent deals that included significant deferrals, and they’ve made offers with similar structures to free agents before, and missed out on a few of the targeted players.
Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga speculated back in a 2017 article about the thinking in including all the deferred money, noting that without comment from the ownership group it was hard to figure out what the thinking really was, while mentioning the lack of any MASN money and other potential explanations for the approach the Nationals have taken.
Knowing what we know now, from Rizzo and Harper, are you at all surprised that he didn’t take the Nationals’ offer?