NASHVILLE — If the Nationals harbor any hopes of keeping Bryce Harper in D.C. long-term, the onus will be on them to initiate negotiations, agent Scott Boras said Wednesday.
“I think those are club dynamics,” Boras said during his customary gaggle with reporters on the third day of the Winter Meetings. “Whenever any team approaches me about any player, obviously we have dialogue with them. But at this point in time, Bryce is going to be there for three more years, very happy there. So we’ll just go forward.”
Harper isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season, so this may not seem like a front-burner issue. But given all the factors at play — Harper’s just-completed MVP season, the fact he could hit the open market at 26, Boras’ reluctance historically to have his clients re-sign before becoming free agency — this winter might be the Nationals’ best shot at accomplishing what admittedly would be a gargantuan task.
There has been no indication from either side that actual talks have occurred yet, and general manager Mike Rizzo suggested this week it’s not high on the current priority list.
“We’ve got quite a bit of control left on him,” Rizzo said Tuesday. “He’s going to be a unique and special situation for the franchise. I’m sure that’ll be a discussion with myself and ownership in the future.”
The framework for a potential long-term deal with Harper is difficult to put into concrete terms, because there aren’t many (if any) similar scenarios in baseball. The two most comparable players and terms might be Giancarlo Stanton’s record deal with the Marlins (13 years, $325 million) and Mike Trout’s relatively modest deal with the Angels (6 years, $144.5 million).
Stanton’s contract includes an opt-out after six years, potentially making the slugger a free agent at 31. Trout, meanwhile, still has the ability to hit the market at 29. Neither is a perfect comparison to Harper.
Boras, as he is wont to do, spoke glowingly about Harper on Wednesday, propping him up as a “generational player.” The hidden message: Whatever deal he signs, whenever he signs and with whomever he signs it, it’s going to be unlike anything the sport has seen before.
“I think with each player like that, you have generational players, I think each organization is going to have its own philosophy about how they handle him and what they do,” the agent said. “So that’s really something I’m sure the brain trust of the Nationals have to sit down and look at. And when they have a plan, we’ll let you know.”
There doesn’t appear to be any discussion at the moment of similar talks with another of Boras’ high-profile Nationals clients, Stephen Strasburg, who is eligible for free agency after the 2016 season. The club faced the same situation last winter with Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond and all but conceded they would have each in uniform for only one more season.
“We’ve always tried to think about our core players, to extend them to contracts,” Rizzo said. “We’ve tried it with several players that have left us for free agency in the past. I would concede we would do the same for [Strasburg].”
For now, the two sides simply need to come to terms on his 2016 salary, hoping to avoid arbitration. (The right-hander is likely to make something in the neighborhood of $10.5 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections.)
Said Boras: “We’re discussing his contract, certainly for purposes of arbitration, doing that thing.”