Washington Nationals: Key decisions needed before Bryce Harper pursuit

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the New York Mets during the eighth inning at Nationals Park on August 01, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the New York Mets during the eighth inning at Nationals Park on August 01, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The biggest storyline in all of baseball this offseason is going to be Bryce Harper. The Washington Nationals have key decisions to make about their pursuit.

The Washington Nationals are going to be big players in the pursuit of their homegrown star Bryce Harper. But before they can aggressively kick the tires, the front office is going to have to make some key decisions about their quest for the outfielder.

After six incredibly successful seasons in the nation’s capital, Harper is set to be the highest profile free agent in the sport this winter. The Nats have made no secret in their desire to at least to at least try to keep the superstar outfielder.

General Manager Mike Rizzo declared “Of course he’s in our plans”, just before the Nats’ season finale in Colorado last month. A pretty clear statement of intent that they aren’t just going to let him walk away without somewhat of a fight.

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However, that statement does leave the door open on the possibility of him leaving for another team in free agency. Jon Heyman of FanCred reported that the team has already formulated two plans, one with Bryce Harper, and one without. This seems pretty obvious anyway, and it would be stunning if a major league front office wasn’t prepared for such a realistic scenario.

Decide an upper price limit

With that in mind, the Nationals need to be able to set some limits in their pursuit of the talismanic outfielder. The first is pretty obvious, how much are they going to be prepared to pay him.

It’s still up in the air as to what figure Harper is going to end up commanding in free agency. It wouldn’t be surprising if someone offered up over $400 million on a deal over 12 years, but after a something of a down season, by his standards, perhaps $300 million over say 10 years isn’t out of the realms of possibility. Teams, fans, reporters could debate this number until the cows come home, and we won’t know the real value until his contract is agreed.

The point is, that the Nationals will need to set their very upper annual average limit early on in the process. Then, if the negotiations ever pass that number, drop out and start focusing on other needs. This would be something that the front office has likely already considered and set.

The team won’t simply present him a blank check and set his own value, the team knows they have other needs to address. So if their alternate plan without Harper contains a high-priced free agent or two, they need to still be able to go out and get them as soon as they can rule themselves out of the Harper sweepstakes financially.

Decide when to stop pursuing if negotiations drag on

The other decision may be even more important than the first, is deciding at what point in time do they stop pursuing Harper aggressively. At some point, they can’t keep chasing him, or they risk watching other free agents and trade targets find new homes as the days on the calendar continue to fly by in the winter months.

A completely realistic possibility could involve Harper and his agent Scott Boras stringing teams along until well into January or February to get every last dollar. If the Nats then come out of that without the former MVP, the front office will likely have already lost some of the targets in their backup plan, as those players looked to secure their future nice and early.

That’s why the timing aspect of the negotiations are going to be key, and it might be something Harper has a say in himself. He knows that the Nats, or any other team he goes to, will have other plans this offseason, so he shouldn’t be trying to hurt the chances of his prospective team getting better elsewhere.

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There really is no other way to spin it, the Washington Nationals offseason direction hinges on Bryce Harper. That’s what happens when a generational talent hits the free agent market, and it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.