For Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper, success came easy and at an early age. His first Sports Illustrated cover came at the age of 15. Now, at the age of 24, the 6-foot-3 Harper has ascended to the top of the baseball talent pool as the sport’s top player. Certain things come with that distinction, including bigger contracts and stronger marketing opportunities. For a young player such as Harper, facing free agency in a couple of seasons could make or break his happiness and determine his success over his career. That’s why it’s a good sign for National fans that Harper was willing to avoid arbitration, and sign a record one-year $21.625 million deal that will keep him in Washington until at least after the 2018 season.
“I think it’s huge,” Harper said. “We’re able to go into the offseason and worry about different things. We’re able as a team and an organization to go out and not have to worry about me going into arbitration for another year or anything like that.”
Harper’s willingness to sign this deal with Washington and avoid arbitration could be a sign that he’s not interested in chasing after the biggest free agent deal from the highest bidder. That process could land him in a city such as Philadelphia or New York, where the fans don’t already love him, and life could get difficult fast if he has a down year like last year when he followed up his MVP season in 2015 with a batting average of .243 with 24 home runs and 86 RBIs. In Philadelphia he would likely get booed after a falloff such as that, but in Washington he’s still very much “the cat’s meow.” And why shouldn’t he be? In five seasons his lifetime batting average is .283 with 449 runs scored, 131 home runs, 363 RBIs, and an on-base-percentage of .387. Sure, those home run numbers could spike if he went to New York, as the left-handed Harper would draw the shorter porch in right-field. But he’d also feel the pressure that comes with being part of a 27-time World Championship Yankees ballclub, where you’re either in first or last.
Talks of Bryce Harper’s impending mega-contract have filled baseball conversation pieces for over a year now since Harper spoke of the possible extension on DC radio in 2016. Since then some baseball analysts have stated that Harper could get anywhere from $400 million to $700 million in a possible long-term deal on the open free agent market. Those numbers may seem unrealistic, but with the way contract numbers increase every year in sports, it’s not that much of a stretch when you consider what others are getting already. Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton currently holds the largest contract in American sports history, 13 years for $325 million. Management in D.C. (Ted Lerner) has stated that they are not interested in paying that much for anyone at this time, but the actual thought of losing Harper could change their minds.
For Harper, a hard decision about his future is coming sooner than he may have originally imagined. On one hand, he’s established himself as baseball’s top talent with four All-Star appearances and an MVP in just five seasons, but on the other he’s currently a hero in a sports town desperate for heroes and winning, which his teams have done. Washington also has a good core of talent that includes Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman as well as pitching sensations Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Truth is, the Nationals are loaded and headed towards big things in the nation’s capital if they can keep the band together. Whether it’s fair or not, Bryce Harper’s decision in the offseason of 2018 will determine how much success the franchise will experience.
[Featured Image by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images]