We’re now in the final week of the window for teams to sign their draft picks. For the Nationals, it marks the final approach of a set of negotiations with No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper that has been slathered in attention and hyperbole, each twist and turn marked with a flurry of updates and anonymously sourced reports. Uh, not really.
A few of you asked me at our get-together last weekend why the Harper negotiations have received such sparse attention. My basic thought on it is this: It’s because we’ve done this before.
The Nationals and Scott Boras, Harper’s advisor, aren’t circling the ring, tossing periodic jabs at one another to see how quickly the other will bleed. They were in this exact situation a year ago, and ended up with a successful set of negotiations for Stephen Strasburg, last year’s No. 1 overall pick. And with the attention paid to Harper and his attempt to enter the ranks of professional baseball at age 17, the negotiations themselves aren’t as interesting. There’s not as much talk from the Boras camp about Harper being a precedent-shattering player, an out-of-the-box sure thing that should be paid like a premium international signing. Harper is a very talented high school player, but he can be compared with other high school players. The biggest question is whether he’d get a major league deal, but if he doesn’t, the only finagling is over his signing bonus, which wasn’t the case with Strasburg.
The Nationals are also in a different spot than they were a year ago. They no longer have an interim GM and an interim manager, as they did at this time last year, and they aren’t the worst team in baseball, trying to clean up their image after a nasty scandal in spring training. By most accounts, this is a relatively stable organization. It’s not one that’s winning championships yet, but Mike Rizzo is a well respected baseball man who’s had successful dealings with Boras before; in fact, he’s signed two Boras players (Strasburg and Ivan Rodriguez) and negotiated an arbitration settlement with another (Jesus Flores) in the last year.
And from a closer-to-home standpoint, I don’t think you’ve seen as much coverage of it because the beat reporters in Washington have also been through this. We saw how negotiations played out with Strasburg last year, and it was exactly as everyone predicted; things went down to the last few days, and a deal got done. Boras was in Los Angeles for the Nationals-Dodgers series last weekend, and a couple reports surfaced about Harper enrolling in classes, which is standard procedure for a player who hasn’t signed yet.
But this mostly has followed the path of the Strasburg negotiations, which followed the path of most No. 1 pick negotiations in recent history. The Nationals are more stable, causing less reason for outside bluster, and the player, for all his gifts, doesn’t present the same conundrum that Strasburg did.
The deadline to sign Harper is a week from tonight, and in my mind, the only drama is how close to midnight negotiations last before there’s a deal. The Nationals intend to pay Harper - who will no doubt be rewarded handsomely - and Harper didn’t get his GED and go to junior college so he could go back, expose himself to injury risk and return in a deep 2011 draft with the stigma of being a signability concern.
I think a deal gets done, and the Nationals will have Harper in their system soon. But even the post-script won’t be as grandiose as last year’s - the Nationals are on the road, leaving no chance for a press conference with fireworks, like they had for Strasburg last year. For the way these negotiations have played out, that seems fitting.