The Washington Nationals have explored the possibility of signing Bryce Harper, the reigning NL MVP, to an extension, GM Mike Rizzo tells USA Today's Bob Nightengale. Scott Boras, Harper's agent, confirms these informal talks have begun, though it's important to note that an impending deal is improbable in the short-term.
It's not exactly a surprise that the Nationals have begun looking into a Harper extension. Though the 23-year-old isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season, he has garnered arbitration eligibility, so the inevitable thought of Harper reaching free agency is on the horizon.
Washington would undeniably like to keep Harper around past that point, so there has never really been any doubt that the Nationals would use their exclusive window to negotiate with Harper in order to prevent him from reaching the open market, and possibly departing to one of many big-money teams that will be salivating over a chance to land a generational talent three years from now.
Of course, the clear hurdle in Washington extending Harper is just how much they are willing to pay. Coming off a near-10 WAR season as a 22-year-old, Harper is set up to receive an exorbitant contract. Nightengale relays this early on in his article:
Bryce Harper, one of the greatest 23-year-olds the sporting world has ever seen, will inevitably become this planet's richest athlete in three years.
If Harper were to reach free agency, there is no telling how much he could receive. Teams rarely have the opportunity to sign a premium free agent just entering their peak years (Harper will be 26 entering free agency), let alone one as prodigious as Harper. The only true comparable free agent case is that of Alex Rodriguez following the 2000 season, when he signed a record 10-year, $252 million deal. And as Dave Cameron writes over at Fangraphs, that deal bodes well for Harper receiving a ludicrous figure.
After the 2000 season, the Rangers gave Rodriguez a 10 year, $252 million contract. At the time, the average salary for a Major League player was a little over $2 million, as total league payrolls in 2001 added up to $1.9 billion; the AAV of Rodriguez's deal was essentially 12 times the league average. The average salary this past year was just over $4 million, so calculating for inflation, the AAV of A-Rod's deal in present value is roughly $48 million per year, so it would have been the equivalent of him signing for 10/$480M this winter.
As Boras notes, 'the true evidence of the current market, economic value of franchises, and the revenues of this game are going to be different three years from now.’’ Essentially, Harper could quite easily top $500 million, and potentially push towards $600 million.
Harper is aware of his own market, telling 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier "don't sell me short" when broached with the possibility of becoming the first $400 million player. Plus, with Boras as his agent, Harper may be more inclined to hit to the open market and optimize his payday. On the other hand, Boras currently represents 10 Nationals, and has a seemingly close relationship with owner Ted Lerner, potentially propelling extension conversations.
Harper's combination of youth, talent, and track record make him a lock to surpass Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million deal signed last offseason. And in an era where superstars routinely receive $200+ million in free agency to lock up their post-prime years, Harper is going to make those deals look minuscule.