The Case for Trading Bryce Harper
Scott Boras, Bryce Harper, and Mike Rizzo have some talking to do. Baseball’s SuperAgent should tell the Nats about their chances of signing #34 to a long-tern deal – that would be the stand-up thing to do. But Boras only stands up for himself and his clients.
By Rob Klein and Evan Redmon, July 30, 2018
Scott Boras Doesn’t Give a Damn How You Feel
J.D. Drew was a college baseball phenom in the 90’s. He was the first collegian to hit the 30-30 plateau – 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases – during his ’97 season at FSU. He is still the only college player to ever do it.
If 31 HRs and 32 steals weren’t enough, JD added 100 RBIs and batted .455 – that’s not a typo. OBP and slugging? Try .604 and .961.
Then there’s the 110 runs he scored. All this despite the fact he was walked 84 times in 67 games.
Drew predictably partnered with Scott Boras when he was ready to join the MLB ranks. Boras had a simple angle for entry-level players: they could make more money if they could be designated as free agents.
But rookie salaries were collectively bargained, limiting a player’s early salary. Boras was always looking for ways to get around that – he wanted his young clients to be unboxed as free agents so a bidding war could ensue.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
A Loophole Only a Lawyer Could Find – Or Would Dare Use
A former corporate lawyer, Scott Boras made one thing very clear to every MLB team: it would take $10 million to get baseball’s newest wunderkind to play for them. So when Drew entered the draft, the Detroit Tigers – holders of the #1 overall pick – didn’t draft him, even though he was clearly the best draftable player by a mile.
Sitting at #2 was the Philadelphia Phillies, and they figured (wrongly) that $10 million was a preposterous, overly-aggressive starting point which they would lower substantially during negotiations. So they selected Drew and made him an offer almost 70-percent lower than what he was seeking.
Unsurprisingly, Scott Boras wasn’t having any of it.
What We Can Expect from Scott Boras
He made an absurd claim that the Phillies did not make an offer prior to the deadline. His reasoning? They had sent the offer to the wrong address. The problem for Boras was that a player had to provide an address on his eligibility card before the draft, and if it was the wrong address, that was the player’s fault, not the team’s.
Boras filed a grievance, naturally. An arbitrator would eventually rule in favor of the Phillies. This would not matter.
On Boras’ advice, JD Drew inked a deal with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League while the grievance was being arbitrated (the Saints are not affiliated with any MLB club). Then came Boras’ second grievance. which asserted that, because Drew had signed a pro baseball contract, he was no longer obligated to the Phillies, or any other major league team for that matter. Per baseball’s own rules, signing with any pro team meant you were no long an amatuer, and thus eligible for free agency.
That is some seriously sneaky lawyer crap right there. This is why we hate lawyers, and why headlines like this are written about Boras:
As we all now know, JD Drew signed with the Cardinals the next year for $9 million – over $6 million more than the Phillies highest offer. The MLB rule on amatures was changed the next year, one of several rules to have been changed as a result of Boras’ lawyering.
This is who Scott Boras is. Which brings us to Bryce Harper and the Nationals.
Nationals Pitchers Who Are Scott Boras Clients
The Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal in 2015 for $210 million. Scherzer was previously with the Detroit Tigers, where he won the Cy Young Award in 2013. He has won 2 Cy Youngs with the Nationals.
Strasburg inked a 7-year, $175 million extension with the Nationals in 2016 to remain with the Nationals after they drafted him #1 overall in 2009. He has shown flashes of brilliance in between his many injuries.
Gio Gonzalez signed a 5 year, $42,000,000 contract in 2012 as a later-rotation arm for the Nationals starting lineup. He’s been more reliable than not, but is only 6-7 in 2018.
Scott Boras, Bryce Harper, and the $400M Fantasy
Bryce Harper won the NL MVP in 2015 after a season that essentially everyone calls “historic”.
He followed that up with another decent season in 2016 followed by another very good one in 2017.
At that point, it was safe to assume that a new, absolutely colossal contract of unprecedented proportions was a mere formality. After Harper’s one-year extension in 2017 was up, he’d be free as a bird to sign with the team of his choosing.
If that team wasn’t the Nationals, surely somebody would back up dump trucks full of cash to the Harper household. The Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers … some big market team would enthusiastically scoop him up.
And with the Scott Boras / Bryce Harper combo package, estimates were poking the stratosphere at the ungodly sum of $400 million. After all, Scott Boras has chaperoned one record-breaking deal after the other, so why not?
The time for Harper’s new deal is fast approaching. Unfortunately for him, he seems to be playing his way out of such a lofty deal. With the numbers he’s putting up in ’18, it’s a near impossibility that any team would be willing to fork over so much.
Why Scott Boras should do the Nationals a Solid
The Nationals have quite a few Scott Boras clients on their roster. And there are quite a few Boras clients among the ranks of former Nats as well.
Back in 2010, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell – whom I consider to be a national treasure – had this insight about the relationship between the Nationals and Boras:
In the last two years, largely through happenstance, Boras and the Nats have been thrown together constantly — starting with the Nats’ $180 million bid for free agent Mark Teixeira, which drove up the market for Boras’s client by at least $20 million.
Since then, Boras’s future has become linked to the Nats to a surprising degree…Boras, who despised former Nats general manager Jim Bowden, lobbied for Rizzo to replace him in the job, even raising the possibility, according to sources, that Strasburg would not sign with the Nats as long as Bowden was in charge of his minor league development.
Now that Rizzo is in charge, the pair have worked successfully on multiple deals and Boras praises him freely. Last winter, when Pudge Rodríguez wasn’t offered more than a one-year contract by any team, the Nats signed him for $7 million for two years, a decision that has worked out well all around and tightened bonds.
Moreover, the Boras/Nats relationship has only grown stronger through the years. The Nationals are at the point where a huge chunk of their total salaries are from Boras’ players.
In other words, they’ve been good to each other.
Which is why Scott Boras has to do one of two things regarding Bryce Harper:
- All but guarantee that Harper will sign a new, long-term with the Nationals after the 2018 season, and make very clear what the terms will be, so that everyone is in agreement before things get started.
- Tell GM Mike Rizzo if they intend to look elsewhere, for whatever reason that have to do so.
If Boras can’t do that, or if the answer is #2, the Nationals would almost be foolish not to trade Bryce Harper by tomorrow’s trade deadline. Here’s why.
Other Notable Nats Under the Boras Umbrella
Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon signed a contract extension with the Nats in January which is worth $12.3 million annually, avoiding arbitration. Tony Two Bags is perhaps the best player on the Nationals right now and one of the best third basemen in baseball.
The Nationals would probably like a do-over on signing Wieters. Ok, his start was good, but his current average is .195 (and that’s an improvement from previous months); OPS is .295. A good defensive catcher and pitch caller, but $21M over the last 2 years is an albatross contract.
The Once Unthinkable Might Be the Intelligent Move
Take a look at the Nationals cross-town football club, the Washington Redskins, for a just moment. For two off-seasons, they had the most valuable commodity the NFL has to offer: a bona fide franchise quarterback in his 20’s.
However, they blew it completely.
Nothing wrong with Alex Smith, but if the Redskins had traded Kirk Cousins before he hit the free agent market earlier this year, imagine what they could have gotten for him. Instead, they got nothing. The they had to give up a 3rd round pick as well as a promising slot corner, Kendall Fuller, just to cover their mistake.
Coincidentally, the Nationals are in the same exact position in the same exact year that Cousins left for Minnesota. Which is freaking weird, actually.
It would be tragic for the Nationals to watch their most marketable superstar walk away with – like the Skins – nothing to show for it.
The team just cannot let that happen.
Harper Wants To Stay in DC, So It Would Appear
Recently, Bryce Harper has made some fairly intense overtures towards the Nationals and the city of Washington, DC. It wasn’t by accident that Harper wore the DC flag around his head during the Home Run Derby. He’s repeatedly said how much he likes it here, how much he wants to stay here.
But imagine what the Nats could get for him.
However, Harper undoubtedly thinks of himself as that rare talent who stays with one team throughout his career. And I’d have to agree: I’m convinced that he will one day give DC what Alex Ovechkin gave this town a few months ago.
If he stays, that is.
Money Talks, BS Walks
Regardless of all the positive talk from Harper about setting down permanent roots in the Nation’s Capital, it’s all just talk until signatures go on contracts. Kirk Cousins made similar overtures to the town and to the team, and although his departure had more to do with his organization not wanting him, it should still serve as a warning to ignore empty flattery before a deal is done.
And with what we’ve seen from Scott Boras – what we absolutely know about him – is that he will not give any hometown discounts. Bryce Harper will take the best contract he can get, wherever that may be.
At least that’s what history tells us. The one person who could change all that is, of course, Harper himself.
If Scott Boras and Bryce Harper get together, and Harper says, “I want to re-up with the Nats. Just get the best deal you can with them”, then Boras will acquiesce to the wishes of his client.
Perhaps Harper wants to stay in DC because it’s in his best interests to do so. If his play this season is an indication of things to come, any team who signs him to a mega-deal will dump him and his contract as soon as they are able. And if he keeps trying to pull outside fastballs into orbit, instead of slapping an Ichiro into left every few games, that’s exactly what will happen.
He’d rather be a lifelong National than a journeyman salary dump, even if it means giving up a few tens of millions. In theory, that is.
Scott Boras, the ball is in your court. For once, make a decision that isn’t 100-percent based on money. Tell Mike Rizzo to print more #34 jerseys, because he has nothing to worry about.
Be a major dude with half a heart.