In an offseason dominated by rampant rumors, will-he won’t-he scenarios and a lack of activity, where will Bryce Harper sign? The Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and pretty much any other team you can think of has been mentioned in rumors of where the slugging right fielder would be playing baseball in 2019 and for years to come.
But what about returning to where he made a name for himself in the nation’s capital?
Pretty much a foregone conclusion that he would leave, Harper should absolutely consider returning to the team that seemed hesitant on offering a generational star a market-shattering contract. But why?
Both publicly and privately, talks of the Washington Nationals never surrounding Harper with the necessary talent to win has been incessantly whispered throughout fans and insiders alike, ever since they began looking down the road to see when Harper’s first ‘out’ was into free agency. That time is now, and there has been no real movement.
All it takes is one phone call, followed by a lot of Brinks trucks to bring Harper back, Washington. It almost makes too much sense.
For one, the team could not do much better so far in free agency. Bringing in the best pitcher on the market in Patrick Corbin, and combining the young lefty with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg makes for a fierce three-headed monster to spearhead the pitching.
In the field, Brian Dozier was brought in on a one-year deal to hold down second, a solid move for a veteran who never really found his footing in LA after being traded to the Dodgers for their World Series run. The team also has third baseman Anthony Rendon, outfielder Adam Eaton and slick-fielding shortstop Trea Turner, among others, to help shore up the everyday lineup.
Harper knows what is expected of him in D.C., which can only help him if he returned. The combination of endearing fans seeing their prized possession come back home for another five-plus seasons can only drive up fan interest and make the team more invested in making its investment pay dividends.
As is with fellow young star and free agent Manny Machado, Bryce Harper has had image issues tied to his temper and his clutch gene in big spots, something that the fans would hopefully forget about if he came back.
If Harper so chooses, in any deal that he negotiates with super agent Scott Boras, he could ask for an opt-out clause in the first two or three seasons, a way for Harper to again get out and secure the bag, as they say. This would give Harper even more bargaining leverage while putting the Nats or any team lucky to sign him in a tough spot if he were to leave.
While the idea of an opt-out clause has not been rumored or even been mentioned to be included, Boras is the most well-known agent in all of sports for a reason, so suffice to say there probably will be interesting ways for Harper to get as much money as possible.
Another aspect on the Nationals’ side is their current salary status, as they sit just a shade over $151 million on the books for 2019. A Harper contract would add around $30 million to that, putting the franchise at $181 million. With Harper under contract last year, the team was at $181 million, so ownership is not afraid to spend the necessary funds to win.
While going even higher than last year’s payroll amount is yet to be seen, the addition of Harper would not necessarily stop the team from adding. While ownership would obviously want to stay under $200 million, it would not be surprising if the team was willing to fork over that extra $20 to add a few integral pieces at the trade deadline in order to prove to Harper that his decision was important to them.
Having Harper return to Washington D.C., where he made a name for himself and grew into the Home Run Derby champion that he is, would be a fitting step in the Nats’ franchise. Having the ‘bell of the ball’ return home to where he is adored would not only help the franchise erase any memories of their lack of playoff success but in turn, it would also give Harper a chance to come out as more of a winner from free agency too.
Harper would be able to hold out for the highest amount of money possible, while still keeping his image intact and even setting himself up for the chance to improve it. He would be smart to return back to Washington, both for athletic reasons but as well as for personal reasons, as D.C. is where he has established roots within the community.
Seeing Harper return would also help Major League Baseball with its image too, as having a superstar not go chasing big-time money in a bigger market and instead return home would be a fitting end to a weird 2018-2019 offseason period.