- - Wednesday, November 7, 2018


He’s gone.

What was mere speculation six weeks ago — the last time we saw Bryce Harper in the home whites at Nationals Park — feels like a stamp of finality. We didn’t know for sure at the time, but Wednesday’s news that he turned down Washington’s $300 million offer seems to seal the deal.

“We haven’t gotten anything done, but he’s a guy that’s near and dear to us,” general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters Tuesday at the general managers meetings, after the Washington Post reported on a declined end-of-season bid to keep Harper off the market. “We’re not closing any doors,” Rizzo said.

Then allow me to not only shut the door, but to seal it tight and put a locked gate in front of it.

(Note: Someone in this space expressed similar sentiments about a certain pitcher in February 2016, writing that Stephen Strasburg “is gone” after that season: “We might as well come to grips with that now. The end of the year equals the end of the road here for Strasburg.” He signed an extension three months later. In the writer’s defense, he also wrote: “I could be wrong and wouldn’t mind if that’s the case.”)

Rizzo is trying to keep hope alive, but it’s better to move on — emotionally for the fans and financially for the ballclub. That way, the former won’t suffer a letdown if Harper signs elsewhere, and the latter can start filling holes on the mound and behind the plate. Just use a Sharpie to write the starting outfield as Adam Eaton, Juan Soto and Victor Robles and go shopping with the money Harper turned down.

“I’m comfortable with the alternative,” Rizzo said about possibly losing the six-time All-Star who turned 26 last month. “But I’m uncomfortable with the statement that we’re a better team without him.”

Rizzo clearly has a soft spot for Harper, who was 17 years old when the Nationals made him the No. 1 pick in the draft. And late last season, Harper said Washington owns a big piece of his heart, too, though he wasn’t sure if the Nationals really wanted him.

He can’t claim uncertainty anymore. According to reports, the Nats’ offer of $300 million for 10 years didn’t include any opt-outs. Agent Scott Boras reportedly felt it was a legitimate, good-faith offer that demonstrated genuine interest. So at least there are no hard feelings.

Other teams are preparing to express their interest as well. Boras will likely give Washington an opportunity to sweeten its bid, but you have to wonder if Rizzo and ownership put their best offer on the table in September.

You also have to wonder if the Nats can afford to wait for Team Boras to complete its rounds. The worst-case scenario is missing out on the best players to fix the roster because everything is on hold — and then failing to re-sign Harper anyway.

“It behooves us to have an expiration date,” Rizzo said.

The Nats had six years to sign him and gave it a good shot. But unlike fellow No. 1 pick Strasburg, Harper wasn’t willing to forgo a spin on the free-agent carousel. Can’t say I blame him. That’s certainly his right, but Nats aren’t obligated to be the last team standing in a bidding war for his services.

It’s impossible to say whether the Nats will be better if he leaves, because we don’t know the construction of “with Harper” or “without Harper” rosters. In either scenario, Rizzo has his work cut out.

“It’s going to be a challenge to put the best product on the field, and that could include Harper and it could be doing things without Harper,” he told reporters. “There is a reality that we would love to sign him, but we may not. We have to have a strategy and plan put together to win baseball games, not only for 2019 but beyond.

“I think we have a good strategy in place, a good plan in place, and we have started to begin that process and we will see where it takes us.”

The Nats aren’t out of the running yet, especially with suggestions that big-money outfits like the Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers might sit out the sweepstakes. Those clubs not only have cash, but also the cachet Harper craves. Potential suitors like the Phillies, Giants and Cards? Not so much.

But I’m not here to encourage those of you who hope Harper stays. I’m here to prep you for departure, brace you for impact: He’s gone.

You can thank me later if he stays.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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