Extending Bryce Harper: In Your Dreams, Mike Rizzo

Everyone in baseball circles is pretty convinced: there is no chance that Bryce Harper doesn’t become a free agent after the conclusion of the 2018 season.

After what many are calling a “Ted Williams-like” season at the plate, Harper, whose idol growing up was Mickey Mantle, is set to become the highest paid athlete on planet earth in three short years. Harper loves playing with the Washington Nationals, but teams are already planning and saving payroll for 2018 in hopes of landing one or more of the stars who will make up the greatest free agent class in MLB history.

The class, barring any extensions, will include reigning American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson, 2014 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, Cy Young winners David Price and Dallas Keuchel, and three players who are part of the young revolution taking place in the game today: Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez; the most underrated superstar in the game, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado; and new Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward.

Harper, along with Mike Trout, is already one of the greatest 23-year-olds the sport has ever seen, and is drawing comparisons to both Williams and Mantle. He is considered by many to have a path to the Hall of Fame already, and if that isn’t enough, the former number-one overall pick just finished putting together one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history.

At the plate in 2015, Harper hit .330 and led the league in home runs (42), runs scored (118), on-base percentage (.460), slugging (.649), and OPS (1.109). Even though the Nationals didn’t make the playoffs last season, Harper was easily the most valuable player in the National League, and in baseball as a whole.

Harper’s 9.9 WAR led all position players in baseball, and was tied with current Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke for tops in all of baseball. He was tied with Trout for the best offensive WAR (8.9) in baseball, and finished first with a 195 adjusted OPS+, 161 runs created, 78 adjusted batting runs, 7.7 adjusted batting wins, an .855 offensive win percentage, and 75.21 Base-Out Runs Added (RE24).

Harper’s 204 OPS+ in 2015 is the second-best mark all time among players 22 years old or younger behind Williams in 1941. Before Harper did it, no hitter had managed an OPS+ of 200 or better since Mantle did it in 1957.

This led him to finish with a MLB-leading 197 Weighted Runs Created Plus (WRC+). To put this into a historical context, since the 1920s only six players have had good enough years at the plate to post a WRC+ of 200 or higher. Babe Ruth did it ten times during his career, and Williams accomplished the feat six times.

Through his age-22 season, Harper has 94 career long balls compared with 84 for Mantle.

Giancarlo Stanton made $325 million when he signed his extension with the Marlins, and at age 31 Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees. Harper, for good measure, has already won an MVP and appeared in three All-Star Games before his 23rd birthday. If he doesn’t get at least $400 million I’m going to be shocked, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him sign for $500 million, especially with Scott Boras representing him.

Despite knowing all of this just like the rest of us, Rizzo and the Nationals are talking about a long-term contract extension for Harper. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, formal discussions haven’t begun between the two sides, but the Nationals want to know if Harper is happy in D.C.

“He’s the kind of player you dream about having on your team for a long, long time.

“I know the kid as well as anybody,” Rizzo said. “I get the idea this thing is a business. I’m all about players getting paid and that kind of thing.”

Nightengale also had a conversation with Boras on the topic, and the most well-known agent in all of sports said that he and his client need to at least consider their offer.

“My attitude is that you certainly want to know what they have to say,” Boras said on the phone from his Newport Beach, California office. “Then, you talk about what they want to do. Historically, these type of players, it’s very difficult because often there are not player comparables that drive this contract.”

Harper also spoke to USA Today, and said he is focused on letting his performance do the talking.

“I mean, I got three years to play,” Harper declared. “I’ve got three years to do everything I can to play this game. And whatever people are talking about money, you can’t put a limit on players.”

Nationals fans are not going to like this next part, but sometimes the truth hurts: there is no chance that Harper is going to sign an extension, and he will not be in a Nationals uniform past 2018.

Harper might like playing in the nation’s capital, but honestly he deserves to play for a team with a high payroll and several superstars that has a chance to win multiple World Series titles. People thought of the Nats as that team for a while, but I honestly don’t see them ever getting to that point.

He deserves to be making way more money right now, and there is no way that a team like Washington will be able to afford the price tag that has already been placed on him.

Harper’s camp might be open to an extension that would buy out a year or two of free agency and pay him a lot more than arbitration would, but I don’t think that will happen.

His free agency is inevitable, and baseball fans deserve to see teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees fight for him.

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