TODAY: The offer would have included an approximately $300MM guarantee over a ten-year span, Janes adds on Twitter. That offer is “no longer on the table,” per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, though that is not to say that the sides will not engage in further discussions.
YESTERDAY: The Nationals made an “aggressive” offer to Bryce Harper prior to the end of the season that he clearly did not accept, Chelsea Janes and Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post report. The deal didn’t contain any opt-outs and was for under $400MM in total value, per Janes, although USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that the arrangement would’ve promised Harper “about” $30MM annually on a long-term pact. Fancred’s Jon Heyman tweets that the formal offer came on Sept. 26 — the day of the Nationals’ final home game of the season.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had little to say on the matter, as one might expect, but Janes notes that Rizzo did acknowledge the Nationals’ effort to take advantage of the now-expired exclusive negotiating window teams have with their own free agents in the five days that follow the World Series. MLB.com’s Jamal Collier further tweets that Rizzo implied that the team is not yet giving up on retaining Harper. “He’s our guy,” said Rizzo. “So we’re looking forward to seeing what can transpire.” Janes and Svrluga add that the offer made to Harper was not a token offer and that the front office has “genuine interest” in keeping the slugger.
Details on the length of the offer aren’t clear, but given the annual salary referenced by Nightengale, it’s all but assured that the deal would’ve promised Harper well north of $200MM and quite possibly $300MM or more. At present, Giancarlo Stanton’s record-setting 13-year, $325MM contract is not only the largest and longest contract in history — it’s also the only $300MM+ contract ever signed. It’s reasonable to assume that Harper and agent Scott Boras have their sight set on Harper eclipsing that record and establishing a new precedent.
Boras didn’t blatantly say as much today, but he did express on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link, with audio) that he plans to pitch Harper as a future Hall of Famer, noting that Harper is only the fourth player to reach free agency at age 25 since 1980 (though technically he turned 26 between season’s end and formally filing for free agency). Boras cited various career-to-date milestones, such as his 180 home runs, that align with the numbers that several Hall of Famers reached at the same point in their own careers. He also told MLB Network Radio’s Casey Stern (Twitter link) that Harper “has the feet, hands and skill to certainly adapt to first base” should a team ever deem it necessary.
Harper’s .249/.393/.496 slash line translated to a 135 wRC+ — that is to say, his overall offensive output was 35 percent better than a league-average bat when weighted for home park and league. That tied Harper for 15th in baseball, and he ranks eighth among MLB hitters (143) since the start of the 2017 season by that same measure. Defensive metrics, meanwhile, were alarmingly bearish on Harper in 2018 despite the fact that he typically rated as a plus defender in prior seasons.
Though Boras has a reputation for finding colorful ways to embellish the value of his clients, there’s also some degree of truth to the fact that Harper (and fellow free agent Manny Machado) is a in rarefied air as a free agent at this stage in the career. The former No. 1 overall pick and NL MVP is reaching free agency at the same age at which Aaron Judge embarked on his sophomore season, for instance. Realistically, there hasn’t been a 26-year-old free agent with the ceiling of Harper or Machado since Alex Rodriguez reached the open market and signed a then-jaw-dropping 10-year, $252MM contract with the Rangers. A-Rod was, incredibly, a year younger than Harper when he hit the open market and was also more accomplished, but the very fact that it’s been nearly two decades since a hitter of this caliber reached free agency at this age is telling when looking at the type of contract Boras and Harper will likely pursue over the next few months.