For the second year in a row, the Nationals went down to the wire with advisor Scott Boras to sign the No. 1 overall pick in the June Draft. And once again, they got their man.
The team agreed to terms on a major-league deal with top pick Bryce Harper, landing the 17-year-old outfielder just before the midnight deadline. The deal, worth $9.9 million over the next five years, includes a $6.25 million bonus. The total package is the largest ever given to a position player in the draft, surpassing the $9.5 million given to Mark Teixeira in 2001.
General manager Mike Rizzo said the final framework of the deal came together in the last hour before the midnight deadline, but team president Stan Kasten said negotiations ran into the last minute. At one point, during that minute, Kasten said, “The truth is, with a full minute to go, Mike and I both thought we were not going to have a deal. I think Scott would say the same thing.”
But the two sides compromised on the untold final points, though it came together later than Kasten said he expected it to and, in his words, looked different than either side would have thought it would. From the outside, the proceedings didn’t have the high-wire feel the Nationals’ negotiations with Stephen Strasburg did, with most industry sources believing the two sides would find common ground - though Kasten bet Rizzo a dollar that the two sides would cut it close.
In the end, the Nationals got a middle-of-the-order bat that could change their lineup in the near future.
Harper, who has been called “the LeBron James of baseball” and was featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN: The Magazine before he turned 17, gives the team a possible future middle-of-the-order bat. His 500-foot home runs have already made him a YouTube sensation, and he hit .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBI for the College of Southern Nevada this season, enrolling there after getting his GED so he could be eligible for the draft a year early.
The fact that Harper got a major-league deal means, at the latest, he would have to be in the majors by Opening Day 2014; he’ll get four option years because he’d have less than five years of professional experience by the end of the third one.
But Rizzo expects Harper to move much quicker than that.
“We do feel he’s a fast-track 17-year-old player,” Rizzo said. “The fact that he handles the wood (bat) so well, and is very experienced with it, playing with a wood bat the whole season, helped us with our evaluation of him. I think it speaks to how hard he’s worked over the season, and how ready we feel he is to endure the rigors of professional baseball.”
Harper will come to Washington during the team’s next homestand for a press conference, and get him to the team’s rookie-ball team in the Gulf Coast League shortly after that. Rizzo said Harper will play in the Nationals’ instructional league, and called the Arizona Fall League an “outside possibility,” though a source close to Harper told MASNSports.com’s Byron Kerr that Harper will definitely play in the elite prospect league.
He was a catcher most of the way through high school and at Southern Nevada, but the Nationals plan to move Harper to right field.
The signing capped a big night for the Nationals, who got all four of their big unsigned draft picks in the fold - Harper, University of San Diego left-hander Sammy Solis, and two high school pitchers (Florida right-hander A.J. Cole and Tennessee lefty Robbie Ray). And at the end of it, there was a jubilant feel in the team’s offices; During the team’s press conference to announce the signing, Kasten hit Rizzo with a whipped-cream pie prepared by executive assistant Harolyn Cardozo, and put the silver Elvis wig given to the team’s player of the game on top of Rizzo’s head.
We’ll have much more on the Harper deal, what it means for the Nationals and an overall look at the draft tomorrow on MASNSports.com.