- - Wednesday, February 27, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Surely, the finale is approaching and the credits are about to roll as “Bryce Harper’s Unfortunate Offseason” fades to black.

Expected to be a blockbuster adventure, it has been a dud of a horror flick, with Harper and agent Scott Boras as the victims and the market playing the killer.

The latest slashing was delivered Tuesday by the Colorado Rockies, who signed their All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year contract that averages $32.5 million per year, a position-player record. Harper and Boras had barely recovered from the wounds San Diego inflicted by signing Manny Machado for $300 million, the richest free-agent contract in major sports history.

You might recall that Harper turned down $300 million from the Nationals. That was supposed to be his floor; other teams would erect the walls and ceiling. Boras had talked up Harper’s free agency for years, amid suggestions that the slugger could become baseball’s first $400 million player.

Three spring trainings ago, Harper said “don’t sell me short” when asked about a potential $400 million deal.

It’s safe to say he’ll come up short, not even close enough to require a measurement.

Chasing the last dollar has its rewards and it makes scorekeeping simple. But it also entails some risk. Though Harper might not lose financially in the end, he has lost in other regards. His pride has taken a blow and his peace has been disturbed. His stock has dropped and his anxiety has grown.

The embarrassment he suffered will not totally disappear when he smiles and holds a new jersey at a news conference.

I don’t begrudge players who desire to test the market when the opportunity arrives. Most were in high school the last time they experienced similar freedom of choice. When an extension hasn’t been reached as free agency draws nears, players can argue that testing the market is their fiduciary responsibility.

Then again, players can decide that their current situation is sufficient. They can conclude that the market, organization and people are virtually all they could ask for. Assuming the feeling is mutual, they can re-sign and skip the hullabaloo of finding a new team.

“At the end of the day my heart was here,” Arenado told reporters Wednesday, adding that he wants to spend his entire career with Colorado. “I don’t go off what everyone else is doing. I never have.”

Meanwhile, Harper and Boras have a new number to shoot for if records are their thing. Now they must exceed Arenado’s average of $32.5 million, in addition to Machado’s $300 million total.

Worse, they might have to let Philadelphia meet their goals.

Harper has shown the city no love in continuing to court offers from San Francisco and Los Angeles. His message couldn’t be clearer if he flew a plane over Philly with a banner that read, “I really, really don’t want to play here, but I might for stupid money.”

With the Dodgers and Giants re-entering the picture this week, perhaps Harper will land where he’s wanted to be from the start, out west. Perhaps one of those teams will reconsider the shorter-term deals they prefer and go all-in for 10 years and $345 million, giving Harper the record for overall amount and yearly average.

If so, Harper and Boras can claim victory. But it will have come at a cost, especially as other free agents continue to languish on the market.

“Bryce Harper’s Unfortunate Offseason,” featuring Machado in a supporting role, has been a sobering tale for players everywhere. When pitchers and catchers report to spring training before two All-Stars in their mid-20s have signed new contracts, that’s a problem.

Arenado certainly was aware of baseball’s two-year-old shift to an analytics-based stance toward free agents, and it played at least a small role in his decision to resign. “Obviously it’s in your head,” he said.

It should be in the head of Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, too, another Boras client. The agent will be inclined to use Arenado’s contract as a starting point, a bar to clear. Rendon would be well-suited to consider the happy contentment of teammate Stephen Strasburg (also represented by Boras), who signed an extension in lieu of becoming a free agent.

“If both parties can be happy, then we’ll see,” Rendon told reporters last week at spring training, adding that his side and the team have discussed the idea “over the last year or so.”

For his part, general manager Mike Rizzo confessed his love for Rendon and desire to continue the relationship. Strasburg reached a happy ending with Washington and Rendon has a chance to do likewise.

As for Harper, here’s hoping he’s happy wherever he lands.

No matter how circuitous, or unfortunate, the route.

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

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