Bryce Harper wants to be the richest player in baseball. The question is whether the Washington Nationals outfielder earns it here.
Nationals officials were surprised
by a floated $400 million, 10-year deal when Harper becomes a free agent in 2018. Surprised? You shouldn't be. That number has been out there for months. Frankly, it may reach $500 million before it's all said and done.
The Nationals are talking tough, with a source saying they'd let Harper go for that number. Well, we'll see.
It's easy to take a firm stance two years out, but the story will now dominate the Nationals until then. Like, every single day. We'll see if the owners blink first. The team can't market Harper for seven years and then suddenly say, "See ya," because of money without serious fan backlash.
Currently, baseball's biggest deal is Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million contract. Alex Rodriguez's $275 million deal with the New York Yankees just ended after 10 seasons.
It's crazy money, but if the Nationals can get Harper to stay a decade for $400 million, then sign him, and don't look back. That deal will be eclipsed by others during its length, so $400 million may be fair and reasonable in the end, if the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player returns to form after a subpar 2016.
But the Nationals want to pay Harper not based off of his MVP season but his overall career. Frankly, it has been slightly disappointing for the 2010 first overall selection. While his .883 OPS is phenomenal, Harper's .279 batting average is below expectations for someone painted as the next Mickey Mantle. He has struck out more than 100 times in four of five seasons and hit more than 25 homers just once.
That said, Harper is the core of this team. He has been even before reaching the majors in 2012. The Nationals have been all-in on right-handed starter Stephen Strasburg and Harper since selecting them first in the draft in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Strasburg signed a $175 million extension last season and was worth every penny right up until another late-season injury. If the Nationals can risk that much on someone who plays every five games, then they can go $400 million on an everyday player.
Harper is must-see TV. Many people listen to games in the background more than watch every pitch. But when Harper's at bat, you stare at the screen, because something great might happen.
And that's the essence of sports -- greatness. It's nice to have good players and win games, but legends and championships are what teams spend millions of dollars seeking annually. The Nationals have a potential Hall of Famer in their lineup now. Don't let him go because of money.
Will Harper give Washington a hometown discount? Actually, there's no such thing. Money is 99 percent of the deal. Things like weather and town quality are the last 1 percent if deciding between equal offers. But offers are never really equal, and players go for the money. If first baseman Albert Pujols could reject $210 million from the St. Louis Cardinals, where "El Hombre" was beloved, to sign for $254 million with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, where he's just another athlete, then there's no hometown discount.
The New York Yankees and others will come strong for Harper in 2018. The Nationals need to sign him to an extension this season, because 2017 will be too late. By then, Harper will decide to see how much he can get on the free-agent market.
But the Nationals can't afford to be cheap here, if offering less than $400 million can be considered cheap. Otherwise, the stain of losing Harper will haunt for the team for years.