It is appropriate that next month’s Major League Baseball winter meetings will take place in Las Vegas. That’s where the love affair began 10 years ago between super agent Scott Boras and the owners of the Washington Nationals, the Lerner family.
Will Boras celebrate with an anniversary gift for the Lerners? Not likely.
In 2008, baseball went for the first time to Las Vegas for the annual meetings where trade talks and free agent signings are conducted behind closed doors in hotel rooms. The top free agent that winter was Texas Rangers slugger Mark Teixeira, and Boras was in agent heaven, with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in a bidding war for Teixeira’s services.
Enter Ted Lerner and the Washington Nationals, in the infancy of their ownership, offering Teixeira an eight-year, $160 million contract — raising the stakes for the free agent.
“What the heck are the Nationals doing?” one Red Sox official asked me, frustrated with the prospect of now having to up their offer.
No one seriously expected Teixeira, who grew up in Severna Park, Maryland, to take Washington’s offer. But its existence forced bidders to dip back into their wallets. The Red Sox blinked, and the Yankees stepped up with an eight-year, $180 million contract.
The Washington Post reported that before the end of the season, when they were still the only team that could negotiate with Harper, the Nationals made their superstar a historic offer — $300 million. The details aren’t clear, though there are unconfirmed reports of a 10-year contract without a no-trade clause. And we don’t know yet if the offer was heavy in deferred money, which is the typical salary structure the Lerners offer. When they signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract, they structured it so half of that amount will be paid after the contract is done.
Whatever the offer was, no one expected Harper and Boras to take it. They are determined to bring Harper to free agency, in what Boras, talking to reporters earlier this week at the baseball general managers meeting in Carlsbad, California, called, “Harper’s Bazaar.” Or, “A-Rod II,” reminiscent of when Boras took Alex Rodriguez to free agency in 2000 and got a 10-year, $252 million contract from the Texas Rangers.
“Harper’s Bazaar has begun and it’s fashionable, it’s historical, it’s elite and global,” Boras said. “You’re in a category of talent that is rare, a generational player, an iconic player. For his past franchise in Washington, the attendance went up over 600,000 fans and remained there. Their TV ratings have nearly tripled. Their franchise value went from $480 million to over $2 billion. You’ve seen an owner’s dream happen before you. For an owner to know the rocket ship of economic opportunity is just blasting off because the player is just entering the prime of his career — you’re talking about just a unique and rare opportunity for an owner.”
There you go — the Washington Nationals would have been eating dog food in front of the 7-Eleven on South Capitol Street if it wasn’t for Bryce Harper. Those other Boras clients — Scherzer, Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and a list too long to name — spare parts, benefiting from the presence of an “iconic player.”
If the Nationals really wanted to make sure that there would be no “Harper’s Bazaar,” they would have had to make Harper and Boras an offer that they believed would have likely topped any anticipated offer from other bidders. That would have been closer to $400 million — though there may have been no figure that would have kept Harper from testing free agency.
So who will win “Harper’s Bazaar?” A number of reports coming out of the GM meetings believe Harper will wind up in Philadelphia — reasonable speculation. The Phillies have money to spend, they got a taste of competing for the NL East this season, and there is always competitive tension between the Phillies and the Eagles organizations.
The Eagles winning the Super Bowl put the onus on Phillies ownership to make a big statement. Signing Harper would be such a statement. It would also mean the Nationals would face Harper 19 times a year in the NL East.
Other teams in the sweepstakes include the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. ESPN reported that the New York Yankees are not interested, and the Chicago Cubs have their own financial obligations they are facing with their personnel.
My bet is the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers tried twice to trade for Harper this past season. Former Nationals owner and team president Stan Kasten is the president/owner of the Dodgers, and he developed a close relationship with Harper and his father when Harper was drafted by Washington during Kasten’s last year here in 2010. If they do not re-sign Manny Machado, Harper is in play in LA — where he made his MLB debut in May 2012.
The problem is that Boras usually doesn’t come bearing gifts. He typically leaves with them.
⦁ You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.
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