Washington Nationals: Door open for Bryce Harper extension

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WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 06: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with Bryce Harper #34 after hitting a home run in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on April 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 06: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with Bryce Harper #34 after hitting a home run in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on April 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo feels he can work a deal keeping Bryce Harper with the club. A bold statement by a cautious team. Can they do it?

If the Washington Nationals have their way, Bryce Harper will never hit free agency next winter.

In an unusual move for the team, general manager Mike Rizzo told Joel Sherman of the New York Post his desires to get talks moving with Scott Boras.

Rizzo told Sherman:

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"“I am not going to assume he is that kind of Boras client that gets out into the marketplace. I feel like I have a great relationship with Bryce and his family since he was 16 [Harper was the first overall pick by the Nats in 2010]. This organization has a very good relationship with the Boras Corporation. [Negotiations] have not begun. There are no plans for it to happen. There is no time and date. But knowing the relationships all around, I would be surprised if we did not explore it at some point.”"

For a team that said nothing before signing Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year extension in May 2016, this speaks volumes.

Rizzo is right when he says Washington and the Boras Corporation have an excellent relationship. Aside from Strasburg and Harper, three other players use Boras as their agents. Max Scherzer, Matt Wieters and Anthony Rendon are all clients. Rendon has two years before he is eligible for free agency.

If there is a team where Boras is comfortable getting big deals done, Washington fits the bill.

Baseball Reference estimates Washington’s 2019 payroll at $149.2 million without Harper. The2018 figure is $166.7 million with Harper and arbitration salaries thrown in. The Lerner family allowed payroll this season to climb over the competitive balance tax threshold. Expect the same for 2018.

If ownership is comfortable in living with a higher tax bracket the next few seasons, the resources are there to re-sign Harper to a long-term deal. Starting in 2019, Scherzer is due $42.1 million annually for three seasons. The Nats already carry the highest payroll in the National League East. Contrary to popular opinion, they are not cheap.

However, the Nats can be stingy to protect the bottom line.

Last season’s move to pen Harper to a $21.62 million contract, buying out his last arbitration year, came as a surprise and without fanfare. At no point has there been any negotiating in public for a longer drawl on either side. For Rizzo to go public on their desires, even the obvious, tells you they feel good about a deal.

Next: Kipnis a possible target?

Do not be shocked if an extension goes public after Opening Day. You get the sense both sides want something done.

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