- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Any seismic happening around the Washington Nationals rumbles back toward Bryce Harper. Only he could become a headline the night a teammate received a $175 million contract extension and another hit a walk-off home run.

In that instance, on Monday night, Harper was the lead for the wrong reason. He had been ejected, then ran back onto the field to celebrate the home run. That’s when he turned to the home plate umpire who had thrown him out and shouted an expletive at him.

On Tuesday, Harper’s name surfaced again. His agent, Scott Boras, was in town to discuss Stephen Strasburg’s stunning extension. Boras had departed from his roots of taking players to free agency, acquiescing to Strasburg’s desire to stay in Washington.

“I work at the privilege of Stephen and Rachel Strasburg,” Boras said.
“I think this was player-driven,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said.

That, naturally, pivoted the questioning to Harper. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season. That has not stopped projections about his future earnings ($400 million?) or location (the New York Yankees are often suggested).


SEE ALSO: LOVERRO: Stephen Strasburg’s deal further validates Mike Rizzo’s shutdown plan


Though Harper is just 23, he has enough media savvy to fend off questions about what Strasburg’s deal may mean for someone who, in many ways, has worked a parallel path. Both were No. 1 overall picks by the Nationals. Both were lauded as baseball saviors before even kicking the dirt in Nationals Park.

Both are represented by Boras, perhaps the most influential dealmaker in baseball and for sure the most influential on the Nationals’ roster. Current clients include Strasburg, Harper, Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Drew.

“I think I’ll just stick around, have some fun and play the game this year,” Harper said when asked what the Strasburg deal may mean for him.

Deflections are not a statistic attached to baseball, but credit Harper with one there.

Rizzo was more clear in his thoughts about possible correlation: There is none.

“Each case is different,” Rizzo said. “Each personality is different. Each player is different. Their wants and needs are different. I think that they’re independent of each other.”

Boras has said he takes into account three prime things when a future contract for a superstar is on the line. He’s well-versed in these situations, having negotiated the first $100 million contract in the game.

First, there is a consideration if the market can expand. Is it already sold out each night? Is the area saturated by the sport? In Washington, the answer is no on both counts.

Second, is there significant revenue from a regional sports network? The Nationals are working on that.

Third, if a team makes a massive deposit for a single player, can it provide other talent? In the Nationals’ case, they have Scherzer and Strasburg on the books until at least 2019 and perhaps until 2021. There is young talent in the minor leagues to point to, such as uber-prospect Lucas Giolito, a right-hander, and shortstop Trea Turner.

Strasburg made this argument in part on Tuesday. He said he felt the team was positioned to win for several more years, checking one of Boras‘ boxes.

“I think every player wants to play on a good team and play for an ownership that has the wherewithal to keep a good team together,” Boras said. “Certainly this is a good team and I think the Lerners have proven they have the wherewithal to keep the team together. That creates a strong probability and consideration I’m sure for any great player.”

There is one other aspect that seems to be a growing factor when negotiating modern baseball contracts: player opt-outs. Strasburg has them. Rizzo gave them — it’s safe to assume begrudgingly — to a player for the first time. Considering Harper will be just 26 years old when he can become a free agent for the first time, it’s likely he’ll want options, no matter who signs him.

“Seems to be the in-vogue kind of ingredient to get a long-term deal done with really good players,” Rizzo said.

Where Strasburg and Harper diverge is in personality. Harper’s brashness is the driver of his best and, for now, worst elements. It’s also a money-maker. He can be found on the television between games, hawking Gatorade or Under Armour apparel. Strasburg just wants to pitch. Staying in Washington, where Scherzer has a bigger contract and a more public persona, allows him to do that as a co-ace or arguably the best No. 2 starter in baseball. He doesn’t have to go through another round of rescuing a moribund franchise from its groan-inducing past. He can just pitch after Scherzer.

Asked if avoiding the rollicking unknown of free agency was a reason Strasburg chose an early extension, Boras began to explain that no player likes free agency. He stopped himself.

“Although Max Scherzer, I must say, he really liked it,” Boras said. “He really did.”

Scherzer turned down a staggering early extension offer of $144 million to hit the market, working right into the Boras model. He ended up with a $210 million deal. The numbers for Harper will be bigger, though the process is likely to be the same, no matter what Strasburg decided to do.

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