WASHINGTON -- The Nationals began the day Friday with a news conference for new left-hander Patrick Corbin, their chance to introduce and show off the consensus best pitcher on the free-agent market. But they also may have answered one of the biggest questions in the wake of Corbin's six-year contract worth a reported $140 million -- what impact would the signing have on any potential pursuit of Bryce Harper?
It appears Corbin's arrival could coincide with the end of Harper's career with the Nationals. During a radio interview with 106.7 the Fan on Friday afternoon, principal team owner Mark Lerner sounded like he had all but closed the door on the idea of a reunion with Harper.
"I really don't expect him to come back at this point," Lerner said. "I think they've decided to move on."
Lerner said the Nats have already made their best offer to Harper, a reported 10-year, $300 million contract extended at the end of the regular season.
"When we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, 'This is the best we can do'," Lerner said. "We went right to the finish line very quickly. And we said, 'If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we'll see whether we can finish it up.'
"But we just couldn't afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the [National League] East or go farther than that."
So the Nats went to work on their offseason plans. They added a pair of relievers and two catchers before the biggest splash so far in Corbin. All the while it seemed likely the Nationals and Harper would eventually circle back before he made his decision to see if they could reach an agreement. General manager Mike Rizzo said he believed signing Corbin would be "independent" of any pursuit of Harper.
However, such decisions were always going to be left in the hands of ownership because re-signing Harper is likely to involve such a massive contract commitment.
Now even if Harper circles back to Washington, Lerner did not sound confident that initial offer would even still be available.
"If he comes back, it's a strong possibility that we won't be able to make it work," Lerner said. "But I really don't expect him to come back at this point. I think they've decided to move on. There's just too much money out there that he'd be leaving on the table. That's just not [agent Scott Boras'] M.O., to leave money on the table."
At times Lerner's sounded as if he was bidding farewell to Harper, as he spoke fondly of the player the organization drafted at the age of 16. He referred to Harper and his wife, Kayla, as family and said he would not hold any hard feelings if they decided to move on.
"This was a special six years, and he'll still be iconic in the city when he comes in playing for another team," Lerner said. "We'll do right by him and have a real ceremony. You can't be mad at him, and I don't think he'd be mad at us if we can't go any further."