In­ter­est in prized free agent slower than ex­pected

Daily Press - - Sports - By Thomas Boswell Wash­ing­ton Post

Where is the mar­ket for Bryce Harper? Whose dog did Manny Machado kick?

And how smart-plus-lucky do the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als look right now?

The Nats’ off­sea­son Plan B — to re­build their ros­ter on the as­sump­tion free agent Harper would leave — now has a chance to be­come an amaz­ing A-plus.

This win­ter the Nats have added Patrick Corbin, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Rosen­thal, Ani­bal Sanchez, Kyle Bar­r­a­clough, Matt Adams and, this week, Brian Dozier. What if Harper comes back to Wash­ing­ton, too?

What was un­think­able when the sea­son ended, and kissed off as ir­ra­tional by Nats prin­ci­pal owner Mark Lerner just five weeks ago, is now on the ta­ble.

All the un­ex­pected twists in this off­sea­son free-agent world sud­denly have turned elec­tric — for base­ball, and es­pe­cially for Wash­ing­ton.

For com­plex in­ter­lock­ing rea­sons, in­clud­ing (ap­par­ently) tepid in­ter­est from the glam­orous big­mar­ket teams, the price for Harper and Machado may be $50 mil­lion to $100 mil­lion less than seemed likely in Sep­tem­ber when Harper turned down $300 mil-

lion from the Nats.

Now, the big-dol­lar play­ers for Harper ap­pear to be the Chicago White Sox, a fran­chise for which Harper won’t want to play be­cause he’s sane. And the Phillies, who have ab­so­lutely noth­ing to of­fer that Wash­ing­ton can’t match or ex­ceed, ex­cept per­haps a moun­tain of money. Harper al­ready says he loves D.C., and knows he’s loved back. In Philly, they booed Santa.

On Fri­day, ev­ery Philadel­phian of dis­tinc­tion, ex­cept Ben Franklin, re­port­edly went to Harper’s home in Las Ve­gas to woo him, in­clud­ing owner John Mid­dle­ton, who has said that he’s pre­pared to pay “stupid” money to land Harper or Machado.

What if the Phillies of­fer $425 mil­lion, with opt-out years, earplugs for home games and right of first re­fusal if Phil­a­del­phia ever de­cides to sell the Lib­erty Bell?

Well, the Nats tried. They stayed in the game and main­tained good re­la­tions. And they still can face their fu­ture with a big, fat grin with the team they now have. Their out­field would in­clude prized rookie Vic­tor Robles, a full year of Juan Soto and a fully re­cov­ered right fielder in Adam Ea­ton who has hit .300 as a Nat. And they can still add an eco­nom­i­cal fifth starter and one more de­cent re­liever.

If, how­ever, Harper looks at his old fa­mil­iar Nats team, sud­denly re­fur­bished, and de­cides that he’d like to come back to D.C. for some­thing on the or­der of $325 mil­lion to $350 mil­lion for 10 years, then that’s a deal that prob­a­bly can get done.

Be­fore the ink is dry, the Nats will be look­ing to trade Ea­ton, and his team-friendly con­tract, plus “oth­ers,” for one more sig­nif­i­cant pitch­ing up­grade.

Oh, brother. If all that falls in place, we can start de­sign­ing the stat­ues of Ted Lerner and Harper that will prob­a­bly be placed in front of Na­tion­als Park some­day, near Wal­ter John­son, Josh Gib­son and Frank Howard.

It’s the Nats busi­ness how high they think they can go and re­main a con­tender in­def­i­nitely. Vi­sions of stat­ues in front of Na­tion­als Park will — and should — tempt them out of their com­fort zone.

Just re­mem­ber, never look a gift horse in the mouth. Es­pe­cially if it an­swers to “Bryce.”


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