Now-former Nationals’ outfielder and 2010 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper talked to veteran Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga, after leaving D.C. via free agency and signing a 13-year/$330M deal with Philadelphia’s Phillies, about his slightly confusing negotiations at the end of the 2018 campaign.
As Harper explained it, the rumored 10-year/$300M deal the Nationals offered during the final home game of the season was presented to him in a meeting in the manager’s office while the game was in a rain delay.
“Harper was still in his uniform. The game hadn’t yet been called, but he was about to have a business meeting. At that time, the Nationals were the only team that could offer him a contract. The Lerners said they loved Harper, that they wanted him to be part of their future. They handed him an envelope. Harper was stunned.”
Harper declined an entreaty to open the envelope during the meeting, waiting until after the game was called to look at the offer with his wife. His reaction to the offer, which did include significant amounts of deferred money, which was to be paid out until 2052?
“‘All right, cool,’” Harper recalled to the WaPost reporter. “‘I got it. We can build off that. We can work off that.’ If that’s their first offer, cool. Awesome.”
At that point, however, it was too close to free agency to not at least test the market, and when the Nationals and Harper finally circled back for more discussions before Christmas, he believed he’d be returning to the nation’s capital, until he actually received the second offer in early January and saw it was a significantly lower 12-year/$250M contract that had money deferred until 2072, reducing the value to around $107M according to Harper’s camp’s calculations.
Harper realized then that he wouldn’t be returning to the only baseball home he’d ever had in the majors.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo declined to get into specifics about what Svrluga got wrong and right in that article, though he did tell 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies that, in the end, the Nationals were comfortable with the way they’d handled the talks with Harper.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of in the way we handled any part of our negotiations with any player that we’ve ever had,” Rizzo explained. “You go back to [Ian] Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann, and Wilson Ramos, and all the players that we’ve tried to sign and tried to extend and haven’t. We hold our head high, and we can look in the mirror and say we made a good, fair offer to those players and to this day they all respect us for it. So that’s as much as I can say about that, and I think that from this time forward we’re going to talk about the players that are on the roster and not the players that are not on the roster.”
The process is playing out again with 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon, who is headed for free agency next winter unless he and the Nationals work out an extension before then.
The two sides have talked over the last few years, with both player and organization saying publicly that they would like to work something out.
Will it all end like the talks with Harper, Desmond, Zimmermann, and Ramos did?
Or will it all end with a deal, like the one ‘09 No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg signed in May 2016, a 7-year/$175M deal agreed to months before he was set to hit free agency?
Strasburg’s deal, everyone involved in the negotiations acknowledged, was a player-driven deal made with a pitcher who wanted to say in Washington.
According to multiple reports from Nationals Park on Tuesday night, Rendon and the Nats’ brass met before the series opener with the San Francisco Giants to continue their talks.
Rizzo, Rendon, and Managing Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner reportedly talked before the team took batting practice, and though there were no details included in the reports, first published by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, the fact that they met again is a sign that they are seemingly still talking and trying to work something out.
Is the hot start Rendon is off to, and the extensions signed this winter/spring, which have left the 28-year-old looking like he’ll be one of the top free agents if he gets to the market, add pressure to the Nationals’ side of things?
Heading into play on Tuesday, the third baseman had a .400/.460/.873 line, eight doubles, six home runs, six walks, and eight Ks in 14 games, with hits in 13 of 14 after an 0-for in the season opener. Rendon went 1 for 3 in the opener with the Giants, extending his hit streak to 14 straight games.
“If [an extension] happens, it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t,” Rendon said, as quoted by NBCSports Washington’s Todd Dybas in mid-March.
Rendon said then he didn’t have any issues with continuing to negotiate once the season began, and Rizzo told WaPost reporter Jesse Dougherty that he would continue to talk to, “... Anthony about being here for as long as he wants to talk about it.”
Before Nolan Arenado signed an 8-year/$260M extension with the Colorado Rockies earlier this Spring, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal had reported that Rendon’s camp was looking for something similar to “... the seven-year, $163.5 million contract the Astros awarded second baseman José Altuve before the 2018 season.”
What will Rendon eventually get? How high will the Nationals be willing to go? Is there an in-season announcement coming like in 2016 with Strasburg? We’ll see...