Tuesday, Mike Rizzo and the Nationals made a big decision. They filled their holes and left it to ownership to decide if they want a surplus.
Washington’s decision to reportedly provide Patrick Corbin $140 million was a direct hit to their financial chances of paying Bryce Harper, who already declined a $300 million offer from the Nationals at the end of the season.
The baseline for paying Harper is likely Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million. The number passed around for years was $400 million. With Scott Boras at the helm, and Harper’s understandable desire to maximize his situation, it appears his next pay day will come outside of Washington barring the Lerner family pushing all their chips in to retain someone dear to them both personally and professionally.
Financial ramifications for signing Harper are massive. The Nationals cracked the competitive balance tax this season. Being an initial offender one season is a modest issue. Being a repeat offender becomes a financial burden. The system is structured to heavily penalize baseball’s upper-tier spenders for exceeding the tax line multiple times. It’s proven to be a good deterrent for almost the entire league.
Washington began to sell off small pieces toward the end of last season in order to save money in 2019 and beyond. The moves they made before agreeing to a deal with Corbin kept their costs in line with those of last season. Matching 2018 payroll, or coming close, while the tax threshold rises enables them a chance to slide under or be within striking distance to do so.
As for Harper, Rizzo seemed in a stagnant place when asked about a homegrown player who debuted with the team as a 19-year-old phenom.
“Bryce is a free agent,” Rizzo said Saturday. “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.”
Rizzo did go on to say he expects to circle back with Harper’s representation as a matter of course at the Winter Meetings next week in 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.”
This, of course, is different. Harper’s agent is Scott Boras. The same one who went to the Lerner family to deliver $210 million to Max Scherzer. The same one who handles Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg and Juan Soto.
And, this is Bryce Harper. It’s a different situation than all those others. Scherzer came from out of town. Strasburg negotiated an extension before hitting the open market. Rendon’s contract is in the future. The Nationals began pursuing an extension for their underrated third baseman a year ago. Both sides remain open to it.
But, Harper is the rare 26-year-old slugger on the open market. Members of the Lerner family attended his 2016 wedding. His jersey is the best-selling item the organization can provide. Kids find Harper relatable. Opponents find him, at times, arrogant and irritating. He’s his own orbit.
Rizzo understands all this. He’s spoken in glowing terms about Harper since his arrival, including through questions about Harper’s pending free agency, then again the midst of it.
“What we factor in is the impact he gives us on the field, in the clubhouse and in the community,” Rizzo said Saturday.
“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.”
Rizzo has moved to a comfortable place. His outfield is populated by Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor. His rotation is anchored by three heavies. The organization feels it has two closers in Sean Doolittle and Trevor Rosenthal. What remains is to decide if they have anything left for Harper. After Tuesday, the answer appears to be probably not.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS
- Landed: Nats agreed to terms with Patrick Corbin
- Bryce in La La Land: Will the Dodgers land Harper?
- Just waiting: Nats say Bryce Harper knows where they stand
- Fixer upper: What Sean Doolittle is doing this offseason