Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The downside of having some of the best young players in the game is that eventually, all of those young stars will need to be extended, or risk losing them to Free Agency. With less than a month left before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals have shifted most of their attention to extending the contracts of two of their key players- Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. There’s no denying that extending one or both of them would be great for the Nationals long-term, but the team will soon have to focus on extending the contract of an even more important player- Bryce Harper.
Harper has been the key to the Nationals’ recent success, and there’s no doubt he will be the key to the team’s future. Since being drafted by the Nationals with the number one overall pick in the 2010 First Year Player Draft, Harper has proven that he has the potential to become the best player in the game. After quickly tearing through the Minor Leagues, Harper was called up in 2012 and took the National League by a storm.
Harper won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012 and led the Nationals to their first playoff berth since the franchise moved to DC in ’05. In less than two full seasons in the majors, Harper has already accomplished more than some players do in their whole careers. The young phenom has a career .272 batting average with 42 home runs and has appeared in two All-Star games. Harper’s talent goes beyond his offensive numbers as he has also learned how to play the outfield at an elite level. Harper’s speed allows him to track down almost every ball that stays in the park and his arm is capable of throwing out anybody that challenges him. Harper finished the 2013 season with 13 outfield assists, the third most in the National League.
Though an extension for Harper is unlikely to come until next offseason, it is something the Nationals simply must do at some point in the near future. Harper not only helps the team with his superb offensive production, but he also puts 100 percent effort into everything he does. Whether he’s stretching a double into a triple or running into the wall in right field, Harper does everything at full speed. Perhaps what is most impressive about all of this is that Harper is only 21-years-old. His overall talent and the fact that his best years are still in front of him make it an easy decision to extend his contract.
As much as I hate to say it, the Nationals can learn a thing or two from the Dodgers, who signed Clayton Kershaw to a 7 year $215 million contract extension yesterday. By extending Kershaw, the Dodgers have ensured that they will keep their best player for the foreseeable future. Extending Kershaw was a necessary, albeit expensive move for the Dodgers, and it will no doubt help their franchise in the long run. Extending Harper also won’t come cheap, but it’s a price that must be paid if the team wants Harper to spend his entire career in DC.
So would a 12 year contract be a terrible idea? I don’t think so. A 12 year deal would take care of Harper’s arbitration years and lock him up through his age 33 season, in the heart of his prime. Harper’s agent Scott Boras is notorious for encouraging his clients to test the open market and not agree to contract extensions. However, that likely won’t be the case with Bryce Harper, as Boras is the one who suggested the 12 year extension in the first place:
An extension for Harper will be necessary at some point, but it likely won’t happen until after the 2014 season. If the Nationals are in fact going to sign him to a long-term contract, they have to be absolutely certain that Harper has recovered from the injuries sustained when he crashed into the right field wall at Dodger Stadium. Harper played through pain the rest of the season after the incident, and had knee surgery early in the offseason to permanently fix the problem. In an interview with MLB Network, Harper assured that he’s healthy and ready to go for 2014.
"“It was a lot worse than a lot of people thought,” he said. “He went in and really saw that it was pretty bad. But he fixed it and I’ve been feeling great. I’m pain-free when I hit and that’s the biggest thing. I’m pain-free when I run and bike, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to hit and play pain-free.”"
If Bryce Harper is healthy, then there is no reason for the Nationals to not lock him up forever. Harper is the face of the franchise and a monumental piece of the team’s future. Dodger’s fans feel pretty comfortable right now knowing that they have locked up one of the best players in the game. We can only hope that a year from now, Nationals fans will feel the same way.