The odds of Bryce Harper re-signing with the Nationals once he became a free agent always felt long, not with some of baseball’s most iconic and cash-infused franchises certain to be involved in a bidding war for a 26-year-old seeking the biggest contract in American sports history.
But it wasn’t until today that a prominent member of the Nationals front office explicitly put into words the expectation that Harper will be playing elsewhere in 2019.
Mark Lerner, the Nationals’ managing principal owner, sat down for live interviews with MASN and 106.7 The Fan following Patrick Corbin’s introductory press conference and suggested the club’s end-of-season offer to Harper - 10 years for $300 million, according to The Washington Post - won’t be enough to keep the star outfielder in D.C.
“That’s really in Bryce and (wife) Kayla and (agent Scott) Boras’ hands right now. It’s not our call,” Lerner said in his MASN interview with Charlie Slowes. “We’ve stated our case. We gave him a fabulous offer, something we felt we could afford, and it’s in their hands where they want to be. Bryce grew up here. We’ll always have great memories of that. I hope they make a decision they’re happy with.”
The signing of Corbin to a hefty deal - six years for $140 million - has prompted many interested spectators around the sport to question whether there’s no longer any money to spend on Harper. General manager Mike Rizzo, though, insisted today the two aren’t connected and that he has merely been addressing his team’s biggest roster holes so far this winter while still allowing for the possibility Harper could return.
“We had to fix the things we needed to fix,” Rizzo said. “Harp is a big part of our family, and we’d love to have him back.”
The Harper sweepstakes is only now just beginning to heat up, and it’s certain to be the dominant storyline at next week’s Winter Meetings in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas. Among the teams expected to make offers are the Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies and Giants, with the Yankees, Cardinals and perhaps Braves also speculated as potential suitors.
In his interview with 106.7 The Fan hosts Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, Lerner was asked if the Nationals’ initial contract offer would now be precluded because of the other moves the team has made since.
“It very well may be,” Lerner told the duo. “We’ll have to sit down and figure it out. If he comes back, it’s a strong possibility that we won’t be able to make it work. But I really don’t expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on. There’s just too much money out there that he’d be leaving on the table. That’s just not Mr. Boras’ M.O. to leave money on the table.”
In his MASN interview, Lerner added the lack of any subsequent talks with Harper over the last two months.
“We really haven’t had any real communications with him since he left D.C.,” Lerner said. “We’ll find out when everybody else finds out, I guess. He’s an awesome young man, and it was an honor to have him here.”