NATIONALS PARK — There’s no timeline on, and no stopping, the Bryce Harper pursuit.
Harper remained on the minds and backs of those filtering through Nationals Park on a dreary December Saturday at Nationals Winterfest. The Winter Meetings are a little more than a week away. The Nationals as an organization, are clicking along with their offseason business. A fan base is wandering around wondering if the most recognizable star in the history of the franchise will be back long-term.
General manager Mike Rizzo handled multiple queries from the media and fans about Harper on Saturday at Nationals Park. He did a question-and-answer session with season-ticket holders. He then circled into a conference room to handle reporters.
“Bryce is a free agent,” Rizzo said. “We’re in contact with he and his reps. He knows where we stand. He knows how we feel about him. Things should take care of themselves.”
The Nationals made an opening offer to Harper at the end of the season before moving onto other business. They added two relievers and two catchers. Rizzo and principal owner Mark Lerner met with marquee pitching free agent Patrick Corbin. The Nationals feel settled at second base, according to Rizzo. That leaves maybe another bullpen arm and a looming $350 million question.
“They haven’t shown their hand either way as far as what their timeline is,” Rizzo said. “I think their timeline is: When they get the deal they feel comfortable with, I think they’re gonna move. I don’t think there’s any urgency on their part. I think when they get something they like, it’ll probably happen.”
That lack of urgency didn’t prevent Rizzo from swiftly addressing problem areas. However, they were all in-line costs. New reliever Trevor Rosenthal has an equitable salary to that of Ryan Madson last season. Kyle Barraclough was added with international slot money the Nationals were unlikely to use this offseason, essentially replacing Brandon Kintzler’s cost. The fresh catching duo of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki draws the same cost as Matt Wieters and backups did.
Which means circling back on Harper is on the ever-shortening offseason to-do list at next week’s Winter Meetings in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas.
“We always have business with that agency, so I’m sure we’ll sit down and meet with them,” Rizzo said. “We meet with just about every agent over the Winter Meetings, and this should be no different.”
“That agency” is the Boras Corporation. Rizzo didn’t crack a smile when referencing the representation for a large chunk of the clubhouse. Scott Boras is intimately, and inextricably, linked with the Lerner family and Nationals.
A key part of Boras’ stump speech is Harper’s off-field reach. Boras called Harper “iconic” in the past and will again in Las Vegas. He’s enamored with the term. So much so it was included during his pitches to teams when Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds were free agents. Rizzo seems nonplussed by Harper’s peripheral pull as a point of focus in negotiations.
“I think very little in our case with Harp,” Rizzo said. “What we factor in is the impact he gives us on the field, in the clubhouse and in the community. He passes all those tests. He’s been a great representative of the Nats for years. I think that’s part of his allure. He brings attention and a brand to a team. But, most importantly for me is what he gives you between the lines and in the clubhouse and he’s been great on all those.”
Now, he waits. Some more. Rizzo’s early tagging of problem areas has solidified an already talented roster. The big deals — Corbin, Harper — are next.
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