Nats give Harper a record deal for 2018 worth $21.625M

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY CHELSEA JANES AND JORGE CASTILLO chelsea.janes@wash­post.com jorge.castillo@wash­post.com

The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als and Bryce Harper agreed to terms on a $21.625 mil­lion deal for the 2018 sea­son, elim­i­nat­ing the need for ar­bi­tra­tion and promis­ing Harper the high­est salary for an ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble player in ma­jor league his­tory. The deal, an­nounced on a sleepy Satur­day af­ter­noon at Na­tion­als Park, elim­i­nates the need for what both sides ex­pected to be a com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tion this win­ter and re­duces the risk of hos­til­ity be­tween the for­mer MVP and the team that drafted him as he hits the open mar­ket af­ter next sea­son.

“I think it’s huge,” Harper said. “We’re able to go into the off­sea­son and worry about dif­fer­ent things. We’re able, as a team and this or­ga­ni­za­tion, to just go out and not have to worry about me go­ing into ar­bi­tra­tion for another year or any­thing like that.”

Na­tion­als Gen­eral Man­ager Mike Rizzo and Harper’s agent, Scott Bo­ras, be­gan dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a 2018 deal when they ne­go­ti­ated Harper’s 2017 salary dur­ing ar­bi­tra­tion this past win­ter. Both sides were open to a two-year deal then, but they set­tled on Harper’s salary of $13.625 mil­lion for this sea­son and left 2018 ne­go­ti­a­tions for later. Those talks re­sumed in the past few weeks; Harper told Bo­ras to do a deal for 2018 if the Na­tion­als still were will­ing. As Harper be­gan the sea­son look­ing more like the 2015 ver­sion of him­self than the 2016 ver­sion, the Na­tion­als were will­ing.

“We don’t have to worry about things af­ter the sea­son,” Rizzo said. “There will be no anx­ious mo­ments, ar­bi­tra­tion mo­ments and that type of thing.”

Ar­bi­tra­tion can be con­tentious, a some­what awk­ward process in which a team ben­e­fits from play­ing down the abil­i­ties of a player it oth­er­wise would aim to please. But for Harper, the process is par­tic­u­larly com­pli­cated, largely be­cause of a lack of prece­dent from which to draw a salary fig­ure.

“He’s a very unique player,” Rizzo said. “That’s dif­fi­cult to come up with a per­son that’s 24 years old with an MVP on his belt and a bunch of all-star games and Sil­ver Slug­gers — lot of hard­ware at 24 years old and with the ar­row still point­ing north.”

When it comes to Harper, the ar­row has seemed to point to the win­ter of 2018, when he prob­a­bly will be­come the most high­pro­file free agent since Alex Ro­driguez, a star in his prime al­most cer­tain to break records for con­tract size and shape. Spec­u­la­tion has long swirled around his long-term fu­ture but be­gan to in­ten­sify af­ter his MVP sea­son. Will he stay with the Na­tion­als? Or will he go to one of those big mar­kets Harper al­ways seems to trea­sure? The an­swers to those ques­tions did not nec­es­sar­ily be­come any clearer af­ter he agreed to his 2018 salary, and both sides in­sist they did not dis­cuss any­thing be­yond his ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble years.

“These conversations were more about ’17 and ’18,” Bo­ras said Satur­day when asked how this deal af­fects Harper’s fu­ture. “It wasn’t re­ally about any­thing af­ter that.”

“We were try­ing to get this por­tion of it done. So we didn’t dis­cuss any­thing be­yond 2018,” said Rizzo, who said he and Bo­ras al­ways had been more fo­cused on get­ting through Harper’s ar­bi­tra­tion years.

“I think 2018 is a ways away,” Harper said. “I’ll let Scott and all those guys take care of that. So­lid­ify what’s go­ing to hap­pen now . . . . The rest, I’m not re­ally wor­ried about that right now.”

In other words, Harper and those around him con­tinue to avoid mak­ing any com­ment about his fu­ture. On Satur­day, he raved about Rizzo and the Lerner fam­ily, said his re­la­tion­ship with both of them has grown over the years and said, “I love walk­ing into this club­house ev­ery sin­gle day and putting my Na­tion­als uni­form on.”

The deal, the terms of which were first re­ported by Jon Hey­man, will make Harper the se­cond-high­est-paid player on the Na­tion­als’ 2018 ros­ter as it stands right now. It bests the next-largest deal for an ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble player — Mike Trout’s $20.1 mil­lion on his longterm deal with the An­gels — and the high­est one-year deal for an ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble player, which was David Price’s $19.8 mil­lion with the Detroit Tigers in 2015. It also rep­re­sents a raise of $8 mil­lion on Harper’s cur­rent salary and there­fore a will­ing­ness on the part of the Na­tion­als to com­mit ma­jor money to a player who has one out­stand­ing year to his name along with a few great — but not le­gendary — sea­sons.

“We thought it was a sharedrisk ne­go­ti­a­tion and con­tract for ’18. On our side, we have a risk if he doesn’t per­form at an op­ti­mum level. He has a risk that, if he does per­form at an op­ti­mum level, he’s left some money on the ta­ble,” Rizzo said. “And we think those are the best deals, where we have shared risk and there’s a trust and a con­fi­dence be­tween the team and the player.”

Per­haps that con­fi­dence — and the Na­tion­als’ will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate in sea­son be­fore Harper can prove he re­ally is the MVP ver­sion of him­self for more than a month — will fos­ter good­will as Harper heads to free agency. Per­haps it will not mat­ter at all. But by agree­ing to his salary for the 2018 sea­son, Harper and the Na­tion­als en­sured their next ne­go­ti­a­tion, should they have one, will be one for a deal that would keep him in D.C. be­yond 2018.

ALEX BRANDON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bryce Harper’s con­tract for the 2018 sea­son is the largest ever for an ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble player.

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