Washington Nationals: Playing Nice with Bryce

The Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper avoided arbitration with the two sides agreeing to a higher arbitration dollar value than was expected. Was this a strategic move to quiet any remaining issues with the public nature of Harper’s future contract demands from last December?

At the 2016 Winter Meetings this past December, the Washington Nationals were ‘taken aback’ by the potential demands of Bryce Harper, who along with super-agent Scott Boras, had floated the idea of a 10 year, $400 million dollar contract. Coming off a season where his batting average was .243, there is a good reason why Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo was shocked by the proposed number and started preparations to let Harper walk as a free agent in the winter of 2018. However, recent news indicates that the two sides are on good terms.

It seems that the 24 year old outfielder from Las Vegas and the Nationals have avoided arbitration and Harper has signed a friendly $13.625 million dollar deal for the upcoming season. That is a healthy amount higher for Harper than the $9.3 million projected by MLB TradeRumors, who have a reputation for accuracy in their predictions. This steep increase is coming on the heels of two seasons where Harper earned $2.5 million in 2015 and $5 million in 2016 after forgoing two arbitration years by signing a two year deal in December 2014.

Is this a strategic play before extension talks pick up this spring? Are the Nationals attempting to smooth the waters with the #1 pick in the 2010 draft ahead of what are expected to be contentious negotiations with Mr. Boras? Or is the higher arbitration value a good faith move to reward Harper for his past performance, particularly for the season where he produced the third best season by an active player (using WAR) for $2.5 million dollars in 2015?

It is likely a little bit of all of the above. While it may put the team and the player in each other’s good books again ahead of the 2017 season, the reality of the situation is that there are only a couple of teams willing to pay the kind of money Bryce Harper will want in free agency and they had the two highest payrolls in 2016.

Washington would be wise to begin preparing for what players they should scout from the Dodgers or Yankees, who fortunately for the Nationals, both have top-level prospects that can be included in any upcoming deal if Mike Rizzo feels he can no longer play nice with Bryce.

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