In a candid interview with Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner cast significant doubt on whether Bryce Harper would return to the organization. While Lerner didn’t comment on the size of the team’s reported last-minute extension offer — it was reported to be worth $300MM over 10 years — he also made it clear that the Nats likely do not have a higher offer in them.
“Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, ’This is the best we can do,'” said Lerner of the September extension offer. “We went right to the finish line very quickly, and we said, ’If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we’ll see whether we can finish it up.’ But we just couldn’t afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that.”
Obviously, Harper and agent Scott Boras passed on the offer in favor of free agency. In the two and a half months since that offer was said to be put forth, the Nationals have added starter Patrick Corbin, catchers Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, and relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough. Corbin was promised $140MM over a six-year term. Suzuki signed for two years and a total of $10MM, while Gomes is owed $9MM in 2019 and can earn as much as $27MM over the next three seasons by virtue of a pair of club options. Rosenthal received a $7MM guarantee, and Barraclough projects to earn $1.9MM next year.
While Nats president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo reiterated earlier that the club sees its negotiations with Harper as “independent” of the high-dollar signing of Corbin, as MLB.com’s Jamal Collier tweets, Lerner suggested some connectivity. In light of the team’s new commitments, he said, it “may very well be” that the $300MM offer to Harper is now off the table even in the event that he and Boras have a change of heart and wish to accept those terms.
Ultimately, Lerner dumped a big bucket of cold water on the notion of a reunion. “I really don’t expect him to come back at this point,” he stated. “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’ MO to leave money on the table.”
That last line may draw some attention, but it also describes the approach of most players and agents in free agency. Plus, Lerner did not express any disappointment at the idea of Harper going elsewhere for a bigger payday. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for Bryce and Kayla and their family,” he said, “adding that “we have no hard feelings about it.” Neither is Lerner concerned about the state of the Nationals’ outfield unit without Harper, saying it’s a “young, pretty incredible outfield defensively, and certainly with the bat it’s going to be special.”
Of greater interest, really, is the prior line — “there’s just too much money out there that he’d be leaving on the table” — in which Lerner hints that Harper still has good cause to anticipate that he’ll beat the $300MM he had in hand from the Nats. Whether that’s based upon specific knowledge or just his sense of things isn’t clear; regardless, it’s a notable statement from someone as well-placed as anyone to know how the market is developing for a top-shelf free agent represented by Boras (who has negotiated many a deal with the Lerners).