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Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

It is no secret that Bryce Harper's next contract could very well be the largest contract in baseball history.

The 2015 N.L. MVP has reprotedly been looking for something in the realm of 10 years, $400 million.

The Nationals would love to keep the cornerstone of their franchise, but with Harper garnering such a monumental price tag, the team may have no other choice but to move on when his contract expires in 2018.

With the MLB winter meetings taking place at the National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Md. this week, talks of Harper's contract situation have arisen again, and according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the news might not be good for Nationals fans. 

The Washington Nationals, balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension, now are preparing themselves to be without their All-Star outfielder after 2018, a high-ranking Nationals executive told USA TODAY Sports.

The executive spoke to USA TODAY Sports on Monday only on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

Agent Scott Boras says the only active negotiations of late have involved a one-year deal in 2017. Harper, who made $5 million last season, is eligible for salary arbitration.

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Harper is one of Major League Baseball's top stars but with the Nationals already investing $84.7 million in 2019 salaries to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, the money just might not be there for the Nationals to spend. 

The Nationals, who had begun preliminary negotiations this year to retain Harper beyond 2018, believe the chasm in their talks now have become too great to overcome. While no specific dollar amount has been broached by high-powered agent Scott Boras, the executive says Harper is seeking a deal more than 10 years in length, believing it would exceed $400 million.

The Nationals' reported mood toward moving on from Harper after 2018 could explain why the Nationals are aggressively pursuing former N.L. MVP Andrew McCutchen and former A.L. Cy Young award winner Chris Sale. 

In the grand scheme, not much has changed. Harper was always expected to command the largest cotnract on the market. But the latest news shines a light on the possible direction of the Nationals' front office. 

2018 is still a long ways away, but this could be an early sign of things to come, one Nationals fans have been hoping they would never have to see. 

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Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia ranked as the Nationals' top prospects

Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia ranked as the Nationals' top prospects

One of the biggest challenges to major-league front offices and scouting departments of winning organizations is to continue developing prospects into contributing players despite picking low in the draft each year.

The Nationals have finished with a winning record in eight consecutive seasons dating back to 2012, never picking higher than 16th overall. Since drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in 2009 and 2010, Washington has slowly drained its farm system of all the players it acquired while rebuilding in the second half of the 2000s decade.

However, the Nationals have still found a way to replenish its minor-league depth with a couple promising prospects each year. Their farm system has been top-heavy in recent years, but the talent at the top has panned out more often than not.

That once again will be the approach in 2020, as the Nationals only had two players who appeared on the top-100 prospect rankings that were released over the past few weeks.

Carter Kieboom, who will have an opportunity to compete for the starting third base job in Spring Training, came in at 11th (Baseball Prospectus), 15th (Baseball America) and 21st (MLB Pipeline). Joining him on Baseball America’s list (91st) and MLB Pipeline’s rankings (97th) was infielder Luis Garcia. He was unranked by Baseball Prospectus.

Washington gave Kieboom a taste of the big leagues last season, but he struggled to the tune of a .128 batting average with 16 strikeouts and four errors in 11 games. He spent the rest of the season with AAA-Fresno and prepared all offseason to make the switch from his natural position of shortstop over to third base.

“I’m as ready as I possibly can be,” Kieboom said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event. “I think as a player if you get an opportunity to go up there and it doesn’t work out and you get another opportunity to be able to go up there, you can’t really beat that. So I’m really excited, this is the best I’ve ever felt in an offseason.”

On the Baseball America podcast, evaluator Kyle Glaser explained that Kieboom was originally slated at No. 13 but was moved back behind Casey Mize (Detroit Tigers) and Brendan McKay (Tampa Bay Rays) “based on some front-office feedback.” However, Kieboom was ranked 41st by Baseball America in 2019, so the 15th-overall spot still represents a sizeable jump.

Garcia, 19, was a unanimous top-100 prospect last season, ranking as high as 61st and as low as 81st between the three evaluators. He made his first stint at AA-Harrisburg in 2019 and struggled both drawing walks and hitting for power. His .280 on-base percentage was a steep dive from the .336 mark he posted between High-A Potomac and A-Hagerstown the year prior, while he hit just 30 extra-base hit (four homers) in 129 games.

But given his young age, Garcia still presents plenty of upside if he can take a step forward in 2020. Washington sent him to the Arizona Fall League in October and he showed signs of improvement, posting a .276/.345/.382 slash line in 87 plate appearances.

He’s rated as a good fielder, grading out at 60 for both his arm and his glove on the 20-80 scale by MLB Pipeline. Although a natural shortstop, Garcia played 38 games at second base last season and didn’t record a single error. If Trea Turner remains entrenched at short, Garcia will likely be moved over to second long term.

With Kieboom representing the Nationals as the lone consensus top-100 prospect, the Nationals joined the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds as the only teams with just one consensus top-100 player. The Milwaukee Brewers were the only team with none.

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Nationals' Aaron Barrett says sign stealing 'affects people's lives'

Nationals' Aaron Barrett says sign stealing 'affects people's lives'

Not every Major League Baseball player has a direct path to the show. Some spend a couple years before getting called up, while a large percentage spend five or more seasons in the minor leagues and may not ever make it. 

And if you get called up, there's no guarantee you stay. Few players know the trials of making it to the majors more than Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett, who after getting drafted by Washington in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, spent four years working toward the big-league roster. 

Once Barrett made it, he pitched for two seasons before suffering career-threatening injuries in his throwing arm. He then spent another four years in the minors before his memorable call-up at the end of the 2019 season. 

A baseball player's career is a fragile thing. So when teams like the Astros use technology to steal signs and a number of pitchers fall victim to an unfair advantage, you have an issue where someone's livelihood is being negatively impacted. 

"I think sign-stealing has been part of the game for a long time," Barrett said in an interview with Carol Maloney. "But when you bring technology into it and take it to the next level I think that's a whole other can of worms.

"You are affecting people's lives, there's no doubt about it," he said. 

Barrett points to Kris Medlen, a pitcher who broke out with the Braves in 2012 with a 10-1 record, 1.57 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 138 innings. 

Medlen had multiple surgeries and was out of baseball from 2013-15 and then again from 2016-18. Once he came back on May 4, 2018 with the Diamondbacks, Medlen got the start against the Astros.

He gave up nine hits and seven earned runs over four innings and has not pitched in the majors since. 

"He ended up having to retire after that game because he didn't do well," he said. "You affect people's lives. This is more than just a game, and what I've been through over the last four years has really shown me that."

Much has been said about how the Astros cheated the Dodgers out of a World Series, or the Yankees out of an AL pennant.

But Barrett, thanks to his experiences the last nine years, is focusing on pitchers who were cheated out of a career because the Astros felt the need to take sign-stealing to the next level. 

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