Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals narrowly avoided airing each other’s dirty laundry in mid-January. Mike Rizzo, the team’s general manager, and Harper’s agent Scott Boras compromised on a 2017 salary of $13.6 million for the 24-year-old lefty slugger.
Rizzo wasn’t forced to underscore Harper’s .243 batting average last season—the lowest of the Las Vegas native’s five-year career—or his .211 batting average in three playoff series. Boras didn’t have to convince three arbiters that his client’s 2015 National League MVP season wasn’t an anomaly.
Next winter, Harper will be a restricted free agent, tied to his Nats contract, for the final time. That means the Nats must hope he stays healthy and smashes baseballs this April and May to trigger their own power play: trading Harper to his beloved New York Yankees before the July 31 trading deadline.
The worst-case Nats scenario would be inking Harper to another single-season pact next January and watching him shuffle off to the Bronx—and getting nothing in return—after the 2018 season, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, a player without contractual ties to any team. And nothing (i.e., zero championships) is precisely what the Nats have reaped with Harper in postseason series against St. Louis, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“Don’t sell me short” is how Harper infamously responded when asked about maybe becoming the game’s first $400 million player, on a Washington, D.C., sports radio show in February 2016. When does avarice wear out his welcome in the swamp? Has it already?
Other go-to lines must be ringing stale, too, with the D.C. audience. He cheers for the Redskins as long as they aren’t playing his Dallas Cowboys. He will back the Capitals as long as the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t the foes this fall.
And, oh, the vanity. He peddles Gatorade and Geico, and Jaguar is his latest suitor. Will he risk Peyton Manning-like overexposure?
The Nats will be prudent to tap the pinstriped club, the game’s top training team, for a wealth of its talent before the trading deadline. The indelicacy of arbitration would be dodged. Most critical, they’d be spared the indignity of watching Harper walk out that door and nothing else walk in.
Rob Miech wrote The Last Natural, the inside story of the 2010 College of Southern Nevada season that launched Bryce Harper to fame and fortune.