Scott Boras waited for the moment for more than six years, from the time Bryce Harper made his major league debut at Dodger Stadium in April 2012, and came prepared to sell his superstar client to the mob of reporters surrounding him Wednesday afternoon at the general managers meetings.
“Well, certainly Harper’s Bazaar has begun,” Boras said, eliciting some chuckles.
“It’s fashionable. It’s historical. It’s elite. Global, certainly. And certainly it has inspirations that deal with great shoes and great hair.”
Harper wasn’t at the GM Meetings this week, but his presence was omnipresent. After years of build-up with the Washington Nationals, summers and winters of speculation and innuendo festering, the 26-year-old Harper – a former NL MVP and six-time all-star — is finally a free agent. The sweepstakes are underway and are just picking up steam.
Harper had the option to end them before they began. The Nationals offered the outfielder a 10-year, $300-million contract at the end of the regular season, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations. The deal, which would’ve been the largest contract given to a free agent in the history of the four major North American sports, did not include any opt-outs. Washington gave him until the end of the postseason to accept it before pulling the offer. He declined it.
Harper and his camp believe he can garner more money in the open market, and exceed the $325-million contract extension Giancarlo Stanton received from the Miami Marlins four years ago. Would the Dodgers give it to Harper?
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, declined to comment on whether the Dodgers will pursue Harper or Manny Machado, the other 26-year-old premium free agent expected to sign a mega deal after spending the season’s final three months in Los Angeles. There isn’t a natural fit for Machado with the Dodgers, who are optimistic shortstop Corey Seager will be ready for opening day after hip and elbow ligament-replacement surgeries, and third baseman Justin Turner is under contract for the next two seasons.
The Dodgers also don’t have a glaring need for an outfielder — their crowded depth chart includes Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp, Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor — but that didn’t stop them from expressing interest in acquiring Harper before the nonwaiver trade deadline in July and again in August when they claimed him off waivers before the waiver trade deadline. The Dodgers offered Puig in a trade, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, but the two sides could not strike a deal.
To add Harper this offseason, the Dodgers would almost certainly have to leap past the league’s competitive-balance tax threshold, which has been set at $206 million for 2019, as they did from 2013 through 2017. The industry consensus has been the Dodgers will return to spending more freely this offseason after investing a little less than $4 million in the free-agent market a year ago to drop under the tax line in 2018, thus resetting the tax penalty to 20% for each dollar spent above the threshold. But Friedman has not said whether he has been given the consent from ownership to surpass the soft cap.
“It’s not something we ever operate with a firm number,” Friedman said. “And like I said last week, I feel really confident that we have all the resources we’ll need to put us in position to win a World Series.”
Friedman has never signed a player to a nine-figure contract. Clayton Kershaw’s three-year, $93-million deal from last week is the most expensive he has allocated and the three most expensive contracts he has doled out were to internal commodities — Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Turner. That would have to change to land Harper.
Boras made his long-prepared pitch Wednesday with three pages of notes in hand. He pointed out that Harper is the only player to have posted a 1.100 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in a season this decade. He insisted Harper was instrumental in the Nationals’ television viewership, home attendance and franchise value all rising during his seven seasons.
But Harper’s resume isn’t spotless. His production has fluctuated from year to year. Last season, he was batting .214 at the All-Star break before surging in the second half. A team will bank on that potential. Whether it’s the Dodgers remains to be seen.
“The Dodgers certainly have the ability to do whatever they want to do,” Boras said. “You have a franchise that has performed remarkably being in the World Series two years in a row. That is a great performance. ... The question is, can they do more? Do they have the ability to do more? I think all the fans in L.A. know they do. How they manage that expectation, I’ll have to leave that up to them.”