WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper hit the open market this week, the first chance for opposing teams to begin negotiating with one of the biggest free-agent stars available, but first the Nationals attempted to take full advantage of their exclusive window to negotiate with Harper and will continue their interest going forward.
"We certainly have made attempts to sign him," general manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday from the annual General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. "He's our guy. We're looking forward to seeing what can transpire."
The Nationals reportedly offered Harper a long-term deal on the last day of the regular season, which he declined, the Washington Post reported Tuesday evening. The exact terms of the deal were not revealed, but it reportedly was an "aggressive offer," although short of the $400 million Harper could perhaps command. The Washington Post reported the Natonals offered Harper a 10-year deal worth $300 million.
Harper declining the offer at that point should not come as a huge surprise.
For years, Harper's free agency has been the most anticipated in the sport and one of the biggest in recent memory. He and his agent, Scott Boras, have always seemed primed to reach the open market, testing his worth by seeing what other teams are willing to offer. To come that close to free agency and then accept a long-term deal would have been a drastic change of course.
But Washington also signaled its intent to remain aggressive in the pursuit of Harper. The Nats tried to make Harper a legitimate offer to take him off the market before it ever began, perhaps a clear sign in their legitimate interest in retaining Harper. They will have some financial restrictions as they try to drop below the luxury-tax threshold with multiple holes to fill on their team.
A reporter asked Rizzo during the GM Meetings whether the Nationals could be a better team without Harper, considering the other holes the team has to fill and with a projected starting outfield of Adam Eaton, Juan Soto and Victor Robles already in place. The notion was shot down by Rizzo, even while acknowledging they have to prepare for the potential of life without him.
"I'm comfortable with the alternative, but I'm uncomfortable with the statement that we're a better team without [Harper]," Rizzo said.
He added: "We haven't gotten anything done, but he's a guy that's near and dear to us. We're not closing any doors."
That last line is important.
That the two sides have failed to reach a deal, even through the Nats' attempts so far, does not mean they will not. It only means if the Nationals are going to re-sign Harper, they are going to have to win something of a bidding war for his services, which has been likely all along.
But Rizzo did add it "would behoove us to add an expiration date" on the Nationals' pursuit of Harper, so they will not wait forever.
"We've had over six years to talk to him and try and get him to sign, we utilized our exclusivity toward the end of the season to this point and we haven't got anything done to this point," Rizzo said. "But he's one of our own and a guy that grew up with us. We'd love to have him."