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Nats join MLB in awaiting Harper's decision

After Manny agrees, spotlight shifts to Bryce; can he get bigger deal?
February 19, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With Manny Machado finally off the board after agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres on Tuesday, according to sources, all eyes now turn to Bryce Harper, the market's other 26-year-old mega-star.Machado's contract stands as the largest free-agent contract in the history

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With Manny Machado finally off the board after agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres on Tuesday, according to sources, all eyes now turn to Bryce Harper, the market's other 26-year-old mega-star.
Machado's contract stands as the largest free-agent contract in the history of American sports and includes an opt-out clause following the fifth season, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. The years and dollar amount match an offer Harper received from the Nationals near the end of the 2018 regular season -- although that offer did not include an opt-out -- but it was an offer Harper did not accept in order to explore free agency. Now the question remains: Can Harper command an even larger deal?
:: Manny Machado's deal with Padres ::
It certainly appears as if Harper stands to benefit from Machado's deal.
Like Machado, Harper is also seeking a long-term contract that will lock him up through his prime. Both are two of the best position players in baseball, and Machado plays a more premium position at third base or shortstop than Harper does in the outfield, but so far, Harper's career provides a slight edge.
Harper has more accolades -- he's a six-time All-Star (compared to Machado's four), he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, and he was named the NL Most Valuable Player in '15. Few players in baseball have reached the sort of peak performance Harper achieved during that '15 season, when he was worth 9.3 Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs.
So, what teams could be in position to reward Harper with perhaps an even bigger commitment?
For much of the offseason, the Phillies have been confident that they will land one of the winter's biggest prizes, having said they are ready to spend "stupid money" this offseason. Philadelphia has indeed been one of the winter's most aggressive clubs, and yet, missing out on both Harper and Machado could feel like a disappointment for the club.
White Sox executives were surprised in the aftermath that they did not land Machado -- and their reported offer could have pushed past $300 million with incentives -- but Machado ultimately took the guaranteed money. After missing out, perhaps they could turn their attention to Harper.
Several teams have reportedly inquired about signing Harper to a shorter-term deal, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, including the Giants, but after Machado received a long-term commitment, it may be even more likely Harper holds out to secure a long-term deal.
And then there are the Nationals, who should never be ruled out when Harper is involved.
By all accounts, Washington appears ready to move on. The Nats are set in the outfield and have built a team they believe is capable of contending. The team has been committed to remaining under the Competitive Balance Tax, and signing Harper would almost certainly push the Nationals over that edge. General manager Mike Rizzo said this week that he likes the roster as it is currently constructed.

"You never say you're done," Rizzo said, "but we're really satisfied at this particular time in Spring Training with where we're at and the roster we have."
And now the baseball world waits on a resolution with Harper and the most anticipated free agency in recent memory. Machado ultimately got the deal near what most prognosticators believed he would receive at the start of the winter. The spotlight now shifts to see if Harper can do the same.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.