Nats likely out of ‘Harper’s Bazaar’

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

It is ap­pro­pri­ate that next month’s Ma­jor League Base­ball win­ter meet­ings will take place in Las Ve­gas. That’s where the love af­fair be­gan 10 years ago be­tween su­per agent Scott Bo­ras and the own­ers of the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als, the Lerner fam­ily.

Will Bo­ras cel­e­brate with an an­niver­sary gift for the Lern­ers? Not likely.

In 2008, base­ball went for the first time to Las Ve­gas for the an­nual meet­ings where trade talks and free agent sign­ings are con­ducted be­hind closed doors in ho­tel rooms. The top free agent that win­ter was Texas Rangers slug­ger Mark Teix­eira, and Bo­ras was in agent heaven, with the Bos­ton Red Sox and New York Yan­kees in a bid­ding war for Teix­eira’s ser­vices.

En­ter Ted Lerner and the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als, in the in­fancy of their own­er­ship, of­fer­ing Teix­eira an eight-year, $160 mil­lion con­tract — rais­ing the stakes for the free agent.

“What the heck are the Na­tion­als do­ing?” one Red Sox of­fi­cial asked me, frus­trated with the prospect of now hav­ing to up their of­fer.

No one se­ri­ously ex­pected Teix­eira, who grew up in Severna Park, Mary­land, to take Wash­ing­ton’s of­fer. But its ex­is­tence forced bid­ders to dip back into their wal­lets. The Red Sox blinked, and the Yan­kees stepped up with an eight-year, $180 mil­lion con­tract.

Teix­eira didn’t end up in Wash­ing­ton, but many Bo­ras clients did over the fol­low­ing years — most no­tably, the No. 1 draft picks of 2009 and 2010, Stephen Stras­burg and Bryce Harper.

Bo­ras and the Lern­ers have had a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship since Teix­eira, but ap­par­ently it’s not enough to keep the 26-year-old Harper in town.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that be­fore the end of

the sea­son, when they were still the only team that could ne­go­ti­ate with Harper, the Na­tion­als made their su­per­star a his­toric of­fer — $300 mil­lion. The de­tails aren’t clear, though there are un­con­firmed re­ports of a 10-year con­tract with­out a no-trade clause. And we don’t know yet if the of­fer was heavy in de­ferred money, which is the typ­i­cal salary struc­ture the Lern­ers of­fer. When they signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 mil­lion con­tract, they struc­tured it so half of that amount will be paid af­ter the con­tract is done.

What­ever the of­fer was, no one ex­pected Harper and Bo­ras to take it. They are de­ter­mined to bring Harper to free agency, in what Bo­ras, talk­ing to re­porters ear­lier this week at the base­ball gen­eral man­agers meet­ing in Carls­bad, Cal­i­for­nia, called, “Harper’s Bazaar.” Or, “A-Rod II,” rem­i­nis­cent of when Bo­ras took Alex Ro­driguez to free agency in 2000 and got a 10-year, $252 mil­lion con­tract from the Texas Rangers.

“Harper’s Bazaar has be­gun and it’s fash­ion­able, it’s his­tor­i­cal, it’s elite and global,” Bo­ras said. “You’re in a cat­e­gory of tal­ent that is rare, a gen­er­a­tional player, an iconic player. For his past fran­chise in Wash­ing­ton, the at­ten­dance went up over 600,000 fans and re­mained there. Their TV rat­ings have nearly tripled. Their fran­chise value went from $480 mil­lion to over $2 bil­lion. You’ve seen an owner’s dream hap­pen be­fore you. For an owner to know the rocket ship of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity is just blast­ing off be­cause the player is just en­ter­ing the prime of his ca­reer — you’re talk­ing about just a unique and rare op­por­tu­nity for an owner.”

There you go — the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als would have been eat­ing dog food in front of the 7-Eleven on South Capi­tol Street if it wasn’t for Bryce Harper. Those other Bo­ras clients — Scherzer, Stras­burg, An­thony Ren­don and a list too long to name — spare parts, ben­e­fit­ing from the pres­ence of an “iconic player.”

If the Na­tion­als re­ally wanted to make sure that there would be no “Harper’s Bazaar,” they would have had to make Harper and Bo­ras an of­fer that they be­lieved would have likely topped any an­tic­i­pated of­fer from other bid­ders. That would have been closer to $400 mil­lion — though there may have been no fig­ure that would have kept Harper from test­ing free agency.

So who will win “Harper’s Bazaar?” A num­ber of re­ports com­ing out of the GM meet­ings be­lieve Harper will wind up in Philadel­phia — rea­son­able spec­u­la­tion. The Phillies have money to spend, they got a taste of com­pet­ing for the NL East this sea­son, and there is al­ways com­pet­i­tive ten­sion be­tween the Phillies and the Ea­gles or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The Ea­gles win­ning the Su­per Bowl put the onus on Phillies own­er­ship to make a big state­ment. Sign­ing Harper would be such a state­ment. It would also mean the Na­tion­als would face Harper 19 times a year in the NL East.

Other teams in the sweep­stakes in­clude the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants and the St. Louis Car­di­nals. ESPN re­ported that the New York Yan­kees are not in­ter­ested, and the Chicago Cubs have their own fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions they are fac­ing with their per­son­nel.

All of this could change, though, by the time the win­ter meet­ings start next month in Las Ve­gas — Harper’s home­town.

My bet is the Los An­ge­les Dodgers. Ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les Times, the Dodgers tried twice to trade for Harper this past sea­son. For­mer Na­tion­als owner and team pres­i­dent Stan Kas­ten is the pres­i­dent/owner of the Dodgers, and he de­vel­oped a close re­la­tion­ship with Harper and his father when Harper was drafted by Wash­ing­ton dur­ing Kas­ten’s last year here in 2010. If they do not re­sign Manny Machado, Harper is in play in LA — where he made his MLB de­but in May 2012.

Is Wash­ing­ton now out of it? It would ap­pear so. How­ever, Bo­ras usu­ally makes an an­nual trip to Ted Lerner’s win­ter home in Palm Springs to talk busi­ness.

The prob­lem is that Bo­ras usu­ally doesn’t come bear­ing gifts. He typ­i­cally leaves with them.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bryce Harper was not ex­pected to take the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ re­ported of­fer last week of $300 mil­lion over 10 years as Harper and agent Scott Bo­ras seemed de­ter­mined to bring the slug­ger to free agency.

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