Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said there is a strong likelihood that at some point before the season he will sit down with Bryce Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, to discuss whether there are avenues open to do a long-term contract before the lefty slugger reaches free agency after the 2018 campaign.
Harper and Manny Machado are the expected stars for a 2018-19 free-agent class projected to be among the best in history, and the belief is that each will exceed $400 million in contracts — and possibly much more than that. Boras, in particular, has a reputation for taking his best clients to free agency and letting the market decide their value.
“I am not going to assume he is that kind of Boras client that gets out into the marketplace,” Rizzo said. “I feel like I have a great relationship with Bryce and his family since he was 16 [Harper was the first overall pick by the Nats in 2010]. This organization has a very good relationship with the Boras Corporation. [Negotiations] have not begun. There are no plans for it to happen. There is no time and date. But knowing the relationships all around, I would be surprised if we did not explore it at some point.”
The Nationals were able to sign Boras client Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, to a seven-year $175 million extension just months before he was set to become a free agent in 2016. But Strasburg had enough medical warts and concerns about makeup to raise concerns over whether he could exceed that total in free agency.
Though Harper has raised some physical and makeup questions, too, he is still just 25 and position-player injuries are generally not as worrisome as those for pitchers. Still, Rizzo does not want “to assume anything. I want to look at all the options and have an honest dialogue. … I think Bryce has comfort with [Washington], loves his teammates, likes our organization and has a loyal mentality. But this is a unique player in a unique situation.”
Even Giants GM Bobby Evans concedes that with his prospects, “the breadth, depth and quality is solid, but the [industry] view is we are lacking on the higher end and, therefore, that can have an impact on your trade options.”
Additionally, Evans knows his payroll already is projected close to the luxury-tax threshold of $197 million in 2018 “and we would prefer not to go over it for the fourth straight year.”
Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, the Giants are still seen as a real player to land Giancarlo Stanton, who is owed $295 million over the next 10 seasons, in a trade with the Marlins. Notably, Stanton has a full no-trade clause and it is believed he prefers to return to his native Southern California and, if not, San Francisco would get him the closest over other potential landing spots such as Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
In addition, Evans indicated the club has no provision set up by which it refuses to exceed the threshold. Plus, a competing GM said, “If I were betting, I’d bet on San Francisco because the most stuff lines up with them. They might not have great prospects, but their history has shown a willingness to move prospects to get what they want and I think they may have less restrictions on what they are willing to give up than other teams.”
The Angels, Red Sox and Mariners — among the teams that are at least inquiring on all available first basemen — checked in on free agent Lucas Duda.
From 2012-16, Chris Tillman was 65-33 with a 3.81 ERA. In an injury-marred 2017, the righty was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA — the worst ERA for any pitcher in history that made at least 19 starts. Tillman is looking to sign a one-year contract, pitch more like 2012-16 and then go back out on the market after next season.