Bryce Harper hasn’t yet decided where he’s going to play in 2019, and as far as we know, he hasn’t even really begun talking to potential suitors in order to decide where he’s going to play in 2019. Yet it feels like he’s been a free agent far longer than the two weeks he’s actually been on the open market because there’s been a steady stream of Harper news making the rounds ever since the World Series concluded and the offseason officially began.
This has produced no shortage of headlines, both locally and nationally, about what agent Scott Boras so perfectly has coined “Harper’s Bazaar,” and that in turn has produced no shortage of hemming, hawing, handwringing and pontificating about what it all means.
Here’s what it all means: Everything has gone exactly as you should have expected it to go so far, and you should expect it to continue to go on for quite a while longer.
Have the Nationals’ chances of re-signing Harper changed at all in these last two weeks? Probably not.
What about that 10-year, $300 million offer the club made to him at the end of the regular season and he promptly turned down, according to The Washington Post? Shouldn’t we read something into that? Not really.
The Nationals, as was reported here a couple of times at the outset of the offseason, wanted to get a jumpstart on the process before other teams were allowed to negotiate with Harper. And that’s what they did, making him an offer that was both record-breaking but also easily turned down by the 26-year-old outfielder.
After years of speculation about how much Harper really would get as a free agent, someone had to slide an actual dollar figure across the table to get the ball rolling. And the Nationals did just that, in a manner that shouldn’t surprise you one bit. It wasn’t a lowball offer, but it also was an offer they knew he’d never take.
Not because it’s easy to turn down $300 million. But because you don’t get that close to free agency and then just agree to the first offer from the only club you’ve ever played for and never find out what other clubs are going to offer. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Nats offered $500 million. Harper still would have said no. All the Nationals would have done is set the baseline even higher when it was of no benefit to them to do that.
So now we know the number other teams have to top. And the Nats will get another chance to match or top whatever other offers now come in. They aren’t out of the running. It does neither them nor Boras any good to make that declaration at this point.
Likewise, don’t believe reports that certain other teams are already out on the Harper sweepstakes. The Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees all have suggested they’re not going to get involved in this derby, but don’t fall for that trick. Teams are only out of these things until they’re suddenly not anymore. Remember how the Nationals had no interest in signing Max Scherzer - until they gave him $210 million?
The Red Sox weren’t interested in Chris Sale - until they traded away four top prospects for him at the 2016 Winter Meetings at National Harbor. The Yankees weren’t going after Giancarlo Stanton - until one day he was wearing pinstripes in the Bronx. The Angels weren’t originally among the contenders for Albert Pujols, perhaps the last monster free agent hitter on the market prior to this winter - until they shockingly gave him $254 million.
The Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees want the rest of the baseball world to believe they’re not interested in Harper because they don’t want to contribute to a growing market that gets out of control. But you better believe Boras still intends to contact all of them before this is all over, and you better believe there’s a reasonable chance any of them caves and forks over some previously unthinkable dollar amount to lock up Harper.
Boras and his fellow agents took a pounding last winter when the market for free agents stalled and left too many big name players scrounging for jobs at the last minute, but don’t count on that happening again. Boras is too good at this, and his track record for getting what he wants for his cream-of-the-crop clients is outstanding.
Harper, of course, has the final say on where he plays in 2019. If he’s determined to play in Chicago or L.A. or New York or Philly or St. Louis or San Francisco or, yes, Washington, he’ll make sure that happens. But he’s also no dummy. He trusts Boras to make the appropriate pitches, and then when the time comes to make the decision, Harper will trust that his agent has done everything possible to maximize his earning potential.
When will that happen? History says it’s still going to be a while. The Winter Meetings open four weeks from today in Las Vegas. It would be an absolute shock if Harper has already signed somewhere before then. There’s a chance it’ll go down sometime during the four-day even at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, especially when you consider Harper lives down the street and can meet with any and every team in the league in person if he wants. But it also shouldn’t surprise anyone if he still hasn’t signed when the 30 clubs pack up and check out on Dec. 13. Boras isn’t afraid to play the long game, as he has done many times before.
Later today, Harper will officially decline the Nationals’ $17.9 million qualifying offer, the final procedural step in this process that ensures both he is free to sign with anyone and the Nats will receive compensation (a pick after the fourth round of the 2019 draft) if he signs with another club for at least $50 million.
There’s no drama to that move. It’s what has been expected all along.
Which, come to think of it, fits in nicely with this entire process to date.
This is going exactly how it was supposed to go, right down to the dramatic headlines and handwringing now taking place across the baseball world.