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An early look at Bryce Harper's free agency

MLB.com @feinsand

As the regular season comes to an end and fans start to think about the offseason, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency.

Name: Bryce Harper
Position: Outfielder
Team: Washington Nationals
Age (as of Opening Day 2019): 26
2018 stats: .247/.388/.503, 33 HR, 94 RBIs

As the regular season comes to an end and fans start to think about the offseason, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency.

Name: Bryce Harper
Position: Outfielder
Team: Washington Nationals
Age (as of Opening Day 2019): 26
2018 stats: .247/.388/.503, 33 HR, 94 RBIs

Looking back
A six-time All-Star at the age of 25, Harper has established himself as one of the game's premier young stars. The 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner had his breakout season at the age of 22, and although the past three campaigns haven't matched that incredible production -- when he led the NL in runs, homers, on-base percentage and slugging percentage -- he assuredly will enter the market with Manny Machado as one of the two most coveted players available.

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Looking ahead
Harper had a subpar first half in 2018, hitting .214/.365/.468, but he's rebounded nicely since the All-Star break, posting an impressive .312/.433/.571 line that should serve him well as he seeks a record-setting contract. Even in his bad first half, Harper hit 23 home runs and led the NL in walks, providing value to Washington's lineup.

Video: WSH@ATL: Harper homers, walks four times vs. Braves

Harper is just entering his theoretical prime. He will bring serious star power with him wherever he winds up, evidenced by the show he put on at this year's T-Mobile Home Run Derby. Harper would be an immediate boost to any offense, and a bigger boost to the club's marketing department.

Video: Bryce Harper crushes his way to Home Run Derby title

Buyer beware?
Harper's history presents plenty of reasons to like him, but there's one gigantic hole on his resume: He has yet to advance beyond the Division Series, though he's helped the Nationals get there four times since entering the league in 2012. He's flamed out in three of those four postseasons, failing to post an OPS above .752 in 2012, '16 and '17.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm2: Harper rips game-tying homer HR 421 feet

One awesome stat
Entering Thursday, Harper had seen a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone than any other qualified hitter in 2018 (41.8 percent), but when he does get one, he's aggressive. Harper's 73.6 percent in-zone swing rate is well above the Major League average (66.4 percent), and he's slugged .664 against those pitches.

Scout's take
"Bryce is an intriguing free agent, largely because of his age, tremendous talent potential and accomplishments to date, all of which will contribute to him making a considerable amount of money this offseason. He profiles as a superstar middle-of-the-order bat with some still-untapped potential remaining. The main component any purchasing club is investing in is the bat. However, when you begin to think about how much that will cost, you also need to factor in the person you are acquiring as well. That raises more detailed questions about his commitment to defense, his interaction with teammates and his offensive approach at times. Ultimately, he is a rare talent who will be compensated accordingly, but the extra years and dollars -- or lack thereof -- will reflect more on the purchase of a face of a franchise."

For comp's sake
Finding comparisons for a one-time MVP Award winner hitting free agency at 26 years old isn't easy, but the closest one is Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was 25 when he signed his then-record 10-year, $252 million pact with the Rangers prior to the 2001 season. At the time, Texas viewed Rodriguez as the guy who would turn the franchise around, but even though A-Rod performed like an MVP for the Rangers (and won the American League MVP Award in '03), he was traded to the Yankees before the '04 season as part of another rebuild.

Potential fits
The Nationals will surely be in play to keep their franchise player, but it will be costly to retain Harper, who will be looking to surpass Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million contract. The Phillies and Dodgers are also believed to be in the mix, and while the Cubs and Yankees don't appear to have a pressing need for Harper, they should never be counted out.

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper