WASHINGTON -- The most anticipated free agency in recent baseball memory began at 9 a.m. ET on Monday, when Bryce Harper officially hit the open market.
This offseason's free-agent class will include stars like Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel and perhaps Clayton Kershaw -- should he choose to opt out of his current deal. But only Harper has had the looming cloud of free agency hovering over his career for years.
Harper turned 26 years old earlier this month, with six All-Star Game appearances, a National League Rookie of the Year Award and a NL Most Valuable Player Award under his belt. He has the charisma and personality to become the face of a franchise and transcend even his sport. So speculation began years ago that Harper could command the largest contract in baseball history once he hits the open market, and discussions began about how much that contract could be worth and for how many years.
"I'm just gonna go about it the right way," Harper said about the offseason after the final game of the regular season in Colorado. "Work hard. Do the things I can. Travel. Hang out with my wife. Hang out with my dog. Enjoy my house, of course. That's it. If I'm back with D.C. or back with the Nationals, that's where I'll be. If I'm not, I'm not afraid of change. I've said that before. That's how it goes."
Although the Nationals traded a few soon-to-be free agents before the end of the season, the organization has seven others hitting free agency: Joaquin Benoit, Matt Wieters, Kelvin Herrera, Jeremy Hellickson, Greg Holland, Mark Reynolds and Tim Collins.
The Nats made it clear Harper is "in their plans," although they have not hinted at how much they are willing to bid for his services. Harper has spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Nationals, and he made a point as the regular season winded down to reiterate how much he loves D.C. and the organization, even as his future remained uncertain. Uncertain despite his agent, Scott Boras, jokingly telling YES Network this week that "we know who the team is. It's already completed and done."
It has set the tone for an offseason sure to be filled with much intrigue and wild speculation, with everyone looking to decipher signs or hints about where Harper is considering signing.
The Nationals have until 5 p.m. ET on Friday to decide whether to extend Harper a qualifying offer -- something they almost certainly will do and he will almost certainly decline. Players are free to sign with teams after that deadline.
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"I'm excited for the offseason," Harper continued from Colorado. "I'm excited to get stronger. I'm excited to get better. I learned a lot about my mental side. I learned a lot about my swing and my approach. I'm just gonna get better and keep plugging along."
The only question now is where.