The Nationals and Bryce Harper today agreed to terms on a contract for next year, a surprisingly early move that doesn’t change the fact Harper can still become a free agent after the 2018 season, but does suggest the two sides are maintaining a productive relationship as they head toward that critical moment.
In essence, the Nationals and Harper are avoiding the arbitration process they would have gone through next winter, agreeing on a 2018 salary now, even though standard procedure is to wait until the offseason to hold those discussions.
Harper, who is making $13.625 million this year, will earn $21.625 million next year per the newly signed deal, according to a source familiar with the terms. He also would earn a $1 million bonus if he wins National League MVP honors.
That $21.625 million figure is a record for any major league player who is still in the arbitration process (has fewer than six years of service time).
By committing to a salary that hefty right now, the Nationals are banking on the fact that Harper’s red-hot start to the season - he’s batting .372 with 10 homers, 29 RBIs, a league-leading .496 on-base percentage and 1.1213 OPS - is no fluke and that he’ll stay healthy through the rest of the year.
By establishing his 2018 salary now, the Nationals also are setting the bar even higher for the long-term contract Harper eventually will sign after that season, whether he returns to Washington or goes elsewhere.