As the Bryce Harper story continues to unfold, one very interesting development has been the re-emergence of the Nationals as a frontrunner. After more or less bidding adieu to him following his declination of a 10-year, $300 million contract offer, the Nats have recently been very active in talks with their prodigal son. Harper and Scott Boras reportedly met with owner Ted Lerner for five hours sans GM Mike Rizzo, which hearkens back to something Boras had mentioned at the Winter Meetings.
The 93-year-old Lerner no longer has the heaviest hand in the Nats’ activities, ceding much of that control his son Mark, but he still wields power and as been known to make unilateral decisions on big contracts. That could be the case with Harper, who The Athletic‘s Jim Bowden reports has received an updated offer worth “much more than the $300 million” we’ve known about to this point.
#Nationals last offer to Bryce Harper was actually “much more than the $300m being reported by the media” according to a source. Apparently, The 10-year $300m offer was actually just the team’s 1st offer to Harper.
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) January 4, 2019
Concerns about the source’s veracity aside, this does square with what we know about Lerner and also with some other reports. Bruce Levine tweeted earlier this week that reports of the White Sox offering 10 years were completely false, though he did say Harper has received multiple offers of a decade or more. That could mean multiple teams making offers or even just one team making multiple offers.
The first reports about the $300 million from the Nats indicated that there were no opt-outs, which seems like a non-starter for negotiations. It makes sense, then, for a new offer to not only be larger in total value, but to include early options. Such a structure would offer Harper the chance to re-enter the market for even bigger money and to possibly limit the club’s exposure. Of course, the opposite is true.
Another interesting factor is the Nationals’ history of working with Boras on big contracts that contain large sums of deferred money. While most of the focus in contract discussions remains on average annual value and the competitive balance tax, we shouldn’t forget about the matter of liquidity. Not that a billionaire owner should fret over a few million here or there, but it’s not unreasonable to believe they’d want to amortize a massive expenditure.
Having Lerner put his stamp of approval on one more big contract is well within the realm of possibility, but it’s equally possible this is a calculated ploy to goose a market that has stagnated of late.