Bryce Harper: Are the Washington Nationals now in pole position?

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates his first inning home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on May 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates his first inning home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on May 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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In recent days Bryce Harper rumors have been picking up steam. Now it looks like the Washington Nationals could be favorite in the pursuit of the outfielder

It had been a while since we had a Bryce Harper story at District on Deck. We lasted, well, just over two weeks before your regularly scheduled Harper coverage resumed on Wednesday. Several reports have emerged around the superstar recently, and they could indicate the Washington Nationals are favorites in those sweepstakes.

Things restarted with Jeff Passan of ESPN reporting that Harper had met with Nationals representatives multiple times this offseason. Then, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reported that Nats owner Ted Lerner met with the outfielder and his agent, Scott Boras, just before Christmas. A significant new development after it seemed as though the Nats were out.

But then things went a step further on Friday as The Athletic’s Jim Bowden said that the Nats’ latest offer was “much more than the $300m being reported by the media,” which is in direct contrast to Mark Lerner’s statement that the $300 million figure was the best the team could do.

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We’re not done yet. The final report came from Michael Duarte of NBCSports LA whose source believes the Nats are indeed favorites to land Bryce Harper, and his source even went as far as to say “I would be surprised if he doesn’t sign [the increased offer].” Still following along? Yes? Good.

All of these reports combined together paint a picture of a franchise that seems to want the face of their team re-signed long-term. And while there’s nothing definitive, if there is serious interest from the Nationals, it’s hard to put them in anything but pole position right now.

Several teams that many expected to be in the mix heading into the offseason have either ruled themselves out or appear determined to only offer a shorter-term deal.

The New York Yankees appear to have neither the need nor the financial flexibility with Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract on the books. The Chicago Cubs are interested in Harper, but it seems unlikely that they would be able to move enough salary in order to be able to afford the superstar’s inevitable mega-deal.

That brings us to the short-term group, that seemingly includes the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Both have reportedly expressed serious interest in Harper, but both have also seemed adamant that it will be on a short-term deal with a higher annual average salary.

While both options are tempting for different reasons, it seems as though the outfielder wants that elusive long-term deal for financial security, as well as wanting to shatter both the current total contract value record and the annual average value record. In theory, either the White Sox or Dodgers could change their mind and offer a longer deal, but it seems unlikely at this point in time.

That leaves us with the two prime candidates. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals. Oh, and don’t forget that ever-present mystery team, should one decide to step forward.

Now of those two named teams, without the monetary factor, the Nationals are the clear choice. Joel Sherman of the New York Post backed that up when he reported that “word is neither [Harper or Manny Machado] particularly likes Philadelphia,” in a recent piece about the two prized free agents.

This means that in essence, it boils down to whether the Phillies, or anyone else for that matter, can offer significantly more money to pry Bryce Harper away from a return to the only team he has known. And if the reports of a much larger offer from the Nats are true, then the chance of a team bidding a large amount more than the Nats is diminishing by the day.

Even though the Nationals now appear to be the clear front-runners in this race, that doesn’t mean that an agreement is imminent, probably not even close. For starters, Jim Salisbury of NBCSports Philadelphia reported that the Phillies are set to meet with Harper in “the next week or so,” so it would be stunning if there was any sort of agreement with any team before that meeting to at least see what they have to offer.

But even with that meeting scheduled, for most Nats fans who want to see their homegrown superstar back in Washington, things are certainly trending in the right direction.

Next. Six Nats who could breakout in 2019. dark

Perhaps the fates of Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals aren’t quite separate just yet based on the latest reports. Only time will tell, but as of right now, things are looking a lot more favorable for a reunion than they were a few weeks ago.

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