On one side of the Washington Nationals clubhouse at Nats Park, there was Bryce Harper, limping around with a sore leg from being hit with a pitch the night before in an 8-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
On the other side of the clubhouse, there was Stephen Strasburg, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, ready to play catch while the rest of his teammates prepared for Thursday’s series finale against the Braves.
Neither of super agent Scott Boras’ prize clients were in the lineup for an important game against a division rival that the Nationals need to catch and pass to reach the playoffs.
The Nationals, without Strasburg or Harper, won 6-3 anyway for a split in the four-game series. But the idea is to gain ground — not tread water.
Harper was expected to miss just the day, but Strasburg has been on the disabled list — his second stint this season — since late last month with a pinched nerve in his neck.
Both are running out of time to deliver on the promise that was expected when each was drafted, one year apart, as No. 1 picks by Washington.
While Strasburg is signed through 2023 (he has the option to opt out of the $175 million deal in 2019 and 2020), Harper is in the final weeks of his contract and is expected to become the highest-paid free agent in baseball history once the season ends.
When that happens, unless Washington does come back and win the battle for a postseason spot, it may be time to consider the Lerner family adoption of Boras as a disappointment. And this is a Lerner family-like affair with Boras. General manager Mike Rizzo has a business relationship with Boras.
It began when the Nationals agreed to sign Boras client Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million in December 2010. That contract lasted all seven years, without a World Series appearance to show for it.
Ironically, Werth, who is now out of the game, just ripped Boras — now his former agent — on Philadelphia sports talk radio, saying Boras gave him bad advice when looking for a job this past offseason.
Success, yes — four National League East division titles and six straight winning seasons — but, as Ted Lerner reminded everyone this winter when they cut manager Dusty Baker loose after two straight NL East championships, the bottom line is winning a World Series.
Boras has failed to deliver on that bottom line.
Whatever tales of titles he may have told the Lerners when they drafted Strasburg and Harper, they have yet to materialize, and the end is near.
Another Boras client, also a top pick for the Nationals, Anthony Rendon, enters the final year of his contract next season. Will he follow Harper with a likely exit?
Then what will the Nationals have to show for a roster of players supplied, for the most part, by the Lerners’ favorite agent?
All of the big Boras deals have delivered, to one extent or another. Werth was a valuable figure within the organization and hit the most famous home run in Nationals history. Harper is one of the game’s biggest stars and won an NL Most Valuable Player in 2015 — a year the Nationals failed to make the postseason.
Rendon has been one of the best third basemen in the league and an MVP candidate. And Scherzer has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
But the Boras formula hasn’t added up to a World Series title — the Lerner family’s standard for success, apparently.
Mixed in with those solid baseball deals have been the signings of Boras clients like Rafael Soriano and Matt Wieters — deals nobody in the front office really wanted.
Maybe when Harper leaves, the Boras influence will wane.
In December 2016, when there were reports the Nationals were interested in a couple more Boras clients, Wieters (false) and reliever Greg Holland, Harper tweeted, “Matt Wieters/Greg Holland > Team Store! #NatsNatsNatswoooooo.”
Wieters wound up on the roster two months later. Holland took a little longer —signed by Washington last week after being released by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Maybe the “team store” will consider reducing Boras’ credit limit after Harper is gone.
⦁ Thom Loverro’s podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.
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