Na­tion­als owner in­di­cates that Harper will sign else­where

Waterloo Region Record - - Sports - JESSE DOUGHERTY

There were many an­swers in­side Na­tion­als Park on Fri­day af­ter­noon, from those spo­ken by gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo, to the quiet pres­ence of all-star catcher Yan Gomes, to Pa­trick Corbin, the rea­son dozens gath­ered at the ball­park on the doorstep of win­ter, where they watched the left­handed pitcher but­ton up his Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als uni­form for the first time.

But aside the ex­cite­ment of Corbin’s sign­ing lurked two ques­tions prompted by the pace the Na­tion­als are op­er­at­ing at this off-sea­son: What is there left to do? And is there still room for Bryce Harper?

Rizzo con­tin­ued to sep­a­rate the star out­fielder from the Na­tion­als’ other moves, say­ing “Harp is a big part of our fam­ily, and we’d love to have him back.” But prin­ci­pal owner Mark Lerner sent a dif­fer­ent mes­sage, sug­gest­ing in a Fri­day ra­dio in­ter­view that Harper’s re­turn is un­likely.

“I don’t re­ally ex­pect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve de­cided to move on,” Lerner told 106.7 The Fan. “There’s just too much money out there that he’d be leav­ing on the ta­ble. That’s just not (agent Scott) Bo­ras’s M.O., to leave money on the ta­ble.”

“This was a spe­cial six years,” Lerner con­tin­ued, ref­er­enc­ing Harper’s trans­for­ma­tion from a home­grown tal­ent into a fran­chise cor­ner­stone. “And he’ll still be iconic in the city, when he comes in play­ing for an­other team. We’ll do right by him and have a real cer­e­mony. You can’t be mad at him, and I don’t think he’d be mad at us if we can’t go any fur­ther.”

The Na­tion­als have not let Harper’s un­re­solved free agency de­lay their ros­ter con­struc­tion for 2019. They have ac­tu­ally done the op­po­site. In chrono­log­i­cal or­der, this off-sea­son al­ready in­cludes a trade for re­liever Kyle Bar­r­a­clough, the sign­ing of for­mer all-star closer Trevor Rosen­thal, the sign­ing of vet­eran catcher Kurt Suzuki, the trade for Gomes, and then the sign­ing of Corbin to a six-year, US$140 mil­lion con­tract this week, with Wash­ing­ton out­bid­ding the New York Yan­kees and Philadel­phia Phillies. Those moves all came be­fore base­ball’s an­nual win­ter meet­ings, which will be in Las Ve­gas next week, and sig­nalled just how com­mit­ted the Na­tion­als are to com­pet­ing re­gard­less of Harper’s de­ci­sion.

Harper turned down a 10-year, $300-mil­lion of­fer the Na­tion­als ex­tended in late Septem­ber, and prin­ci­pal owner Mark Lerner said in the ra­dio in­ter­view Fri­day: “We told them, ’This is the best we can do.’ “Lerner added that, given what the Na­tion­als have spent in the last month or so, it may be hard to bring back Harper even if he and Bo­ras showed in­ter­est in the ini­tial of­fer. And if the Harper sweep­stakes are tilt­ing away from Wash­ing­ton, there is a chance the Na­tion­als ex­plore the mar­ket be­yond their re­main­ing needs.

The start­ing ro­ta­tion is strong at the top — with Max Scherzer, Stephen Stras­burg and Corbin — but a few more op­tions could stir up com­pe­ti­tion for the fi­nal spot, and sharpen what will be the team’s most en­tic­ing strength should Harper move on.

If Harper does not re­turn, the Na­tion­als may be more likely to go after a sec­ond base­man who could help ac­count for his pro­duc­tion. Rizzo con­firmed Fri­day that he had been in con­tact with the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of D.J. LeMahieu, one of the best free agent sec­ond base­men, but couched that by say­ing the Na­tion­als have reached out to around 40 avail­able play­ers. They have also ex­pressed con­fi­dence in some com­bi­na­tion of Howie Ken­drick and Wilmer Difo at that po­si­tion, and might not want to give a vet­eran a multi-year deal given that top prospect Carter Kieboom, a short­stop by trade, has started to work at sec­ond base.


The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ in­tro­duc­tion of pitcher Pa­trick Corbin, left, was over­shad­owed by owner Mark Lerner’s com­ments.

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