SNIDER: Waiting game may pay more for Bryce Harper

Rick Snider
August 29, 2018 - 4:54 pm
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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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Why won't the Washington Nationals sign Bryce Harper to an extension before his contract ends? Because Harper knows there's money waiting in the winter.

Sure, the Nats would love to sign Harper right now. Get him in under free market value. Sign up their marquee player for another five years or maybe 10. Nothing wrong with that.

But Harper's agent is Scott Boras, who is nobody's fool. He knows open bidding will only increase offers, including the Nats. And that's Boras' job – to make Harper richer than a U.S. Senator. Harper's job is to trust Boras.

So what if Harper reportedly likes it here? What's not to like, after all? It's the nation's capital, not some backwater where baseball is the only major attraction. You think players love living in Tampa's sweat box despite the tax breaks? Or Milwaukee, where winter comes by Labor Day?

Then there's being the idol of baseball fans. Where even a poor half-season brought defenders predicting better times. Where Harper can still be on the streets without being mobbed whenever he's heading to dinner or a movie.

And, this is a franchise that's trying to win a World Series. It's not some place where just reaching .500 is a big deal. OK, the Nats haven't come close to winning a championship, but go to Baltimore and see what losing is really like.

There are plenty of reasons for Harper to want to stay. But there may be more money elsewhere and that almost always wins. When Albert Pujols signed with the Anaheim Angels for $254 million in 2011, he declined a $210 million offer by St. Louis, where he was the beloved "El Hombre." That extra $44 million is money Pujols will likely never spend, while surely a good bit was lost to California's higher taxes.

Pujols was lured by money that's never going to be in his pocket just because it was more money. And that's how 99 percent of free agency goes. There are no hometown discounts. Players always say at season's end they'd like to stay, and maybe they would, but money changes everything.

For the Nats to make Harper forsake the free agent windfall, they have to substantially overpay. And, the Lerner family isn't doing that. Oh, the owners will spend money, but Harper's next deal almost makes him a partner. With Juan Soto filling one outfield spot and Victor Robles expected to start next year, the Nats can well afford to let Harper go if Boras is asking for the GNP of a small nation.

Players always want to stay, until they don't. No sense in the Nats setting the market value now for Boras to leverage later, unless they truly expect to overpay and sign Harper now.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks