A day of waiting for Bryce Harper news
Updated: August 17, 2010 - 12:50 am
An earlier version of this story said that Bryce Harper was drafted last year. He was drafted on June 7, 2010.
If you're looking for hope of playoff baseball at Nationals Park someday, hoist your dreams on the shoulders of 17-year-old Bryce Harper. Everyone else has.
He was picked first overall by the Nationals this year with the knowledge that this day would likely come: The final tense moments of drawn-out, high-stakes contract negotiations that would inevitably come down to the last day possible.
When he was 16, Sports Illustrated dubbed him "Baseball's LeBron." Together with Stephen Strasburg, he'd give the Nationals a nearly unprecedented duo – at least when it comes to hype, and possibly in talent.
Harper had until midnight to sign, and he used every second possible.
12:43 a.m.: It's a celebratory night/morning now, as GM Mike Rizzo got a whipped cream pie to the face from Team President Stan Kasten at a press conference. Nationals Daily News quickly published a photo.
TBD's Samuel Chamberlain checked in with his take, and we'll be gathering more response in the coming days.
12:31 a.m.: According to Nationals Daily News, the negotiations literally went to the last minute. "We got the negotiations done seconds before the midnight deadline," GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at Nationals Park.
And how's this for frightening? From Team President Stan Kasten: "The truth is, with a full minute to go, Mark and I both thought that we were not going to have a deal."
12:26 a.m.: Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated says Harper got a $6.25 million bonus with $9.9 million in guarantees. He adds that the Nationals "picked the right 2 years to be bad."
12:20 a.m.: Several different money figures are flying around Twitter from competing reporters. We're hearing as low as $6.5 million and as high as $9.9 million. We're still awaiting solid confirmation.
12:11 a.m.: Several stories are now confirming the reports. Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post says it's a major league deal, but the money is still unknown.
12:04 a.m.: It's done: Bryce Harper has signed with the Washington Nationals, according to Jim Bowden.
Predictably, Harper and the Nationals kept their fans up late, as they still have not formally announced the agreement or confirmed Bowden's report. But now, for the second year in the row, the Nationals have signed what scouts describe as a generational talent.
We'll have some immediate reaction soon, but for now you can check out the celebration in the thread at Federal Baseball, or watch the response come in from the world on Twitter.
11:50 p.m.: Ten minutes to go and nary a peep from any official sources. Fans on Twitter are entertaining themselves by predicting when Harper will sign, most assuming he will. No one seems to think it will come before 11:55 p.m.
Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman tweets:
"bryce harper said getting "close'' to a deal with #nats. believed worth close to $10 million in total. story soon on si.com."
11:36 p.m.: Former GM Jim Bowden, now an analyst for XM and Fox Sports, tweets good news from a "legit source":
"Bryce Harper negotiations going smoothly at the final turn..at the final give and take..this is getting done by the deadline"
11:31 p.m.: We noted a 3:58 p.m. a tweet that carried the not-so-big news that a Facebook profile supposedly belonging to Bryce Harper has the Washington Nationals listed as his employer. With no actual news right now, the "news" is picking up again. We're pretty confident it doesn't mean anything.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore writes that discussions were ongoing as recently as an hour before the deadline.
11:19 p.m.: TBD Community Network members Nationals Daily News (Ian Koski) and Nats Insider (Mark Zuckerman) are waiting in the press box at Nationals Park to speak to GM Mike Rizzo. They're expecting him to appear at midnight.
Another curiosity of ours: If it's well-known that deals won't be completed or announced until the last possible minute before the deadline, why not just have a 6 p.m. deadline? We imagine the NFL wouldn't torture its fans this way.
11:04 p.m.: We can't help but wonder, if Harper does sign, how many people are about to use the "Bryce Harper is taking his talents to DC" joke? For the record, it won't be funny.
11:01 p.m.: A source tell MASN's Byron Kerr that a deal "will get done."
Over at SB Nation, Mike Prada hopes this year's draft class will end the perception that the Nats are cheap.
10:38 p.m.: Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and celebrated Twitter-fight-picker, is apparently not a fan of Bryce Harper. He tweeted:
"Harper is just being the dumb-assed prick he always was, is and will be. He will never change. Nats fans are in for it."
We'll just take this moment to remind you, for no reason in particular, that Bryce Harper is 17 years old.
9:39 p.m.: It's worth noting that Harper wouldn't be the only big talent to join the organization this year.
According to Baseball America's Jim Callis, they've also added second-rounder Sammy Solis with a $1 million deal, and fourth-rounder A.J. Cole with a $2 million deal. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reported that 12th-rounder Robbie Ray was signed with a $799,000 bonus.
In baseball's bizarre draft system, don't focus on what round a player is taken in; what's important is how much money the player gets. Those are very big bonuses for high-end talent, and the Nationals have been the most aggressive team in the NL East with their spending on the draft.
"Stephen Strasburg getting upset that Bryce Harper is taking too long to sign is like The Situation getting upset that someone tans too much."
Also, Federal Baseball has set up a discussion thread for the final hours of negotiations.
8:54 p.m.: We're still with you, and we're keeping a close eye on all the news that's coming in, but there isn't much going on right now. We'll deliver whatever updates do emerge, but we're predicting a whole lot of not-much until about 11:55 p.m.
While you're waiting, you can read up on why an analyst at Fangraphs thinks shifting Harper from catcher to the outfield is a good decision.
7:08 p.m.: On The Doug Gottlieb Show, ESPN and Scouts Inc's Keith Law said he thinks the deal is essentially done, but the Nats and many other teams are waiting as long as possible to announce their deals.
"Around 11:55 there's going to be a huge ... flurry of deals coming out that were probably struck hours or even days ago, but they're just getting announced right at that deadline," he said.
Law said announcing Harper's deal might impact negotiations for other players, so the league dissuades early declarations. If the Nationals announced right now that Harper signed for $12 million, for example, the No. 2 pick might have reason to hold out for a higher price to be closer to Harper, he said.
5:32 p.m.: It's a tough day to be a beat reporter. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore isn't hearing a lot, but he does hear there's an "upbeat mood" in the Nationals' front office, for what that's worth.
He placed an educated guess of $10.9 million for Harper's bonus money.
5:25 p.m.: More actual baseball analysis: Jeff Bergin checks in again at Nationals Daily News and projects Harper's rookie season. He foresees a 2013 debut with a possible late-season cameo in 2012.
He's picturing a .270 average, 20 HR, 75-85 RBI in Harper's first full season, unless the team rushes him onto the field in 2012.
5:11 p.m.: Peter Gammons told Dan Patrick that he believes Harper will sign, so clearly everyone can rest easy.
He pointed out that the Nats are far from alone in their last-minute talks, as 17 of 32 first-round picks remained unsigned today. In a fact Nats fans will hope is highly irrelevant, he mentioned that Washington would get the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 as compensation if Harper does not sign.
"There's no Bryce Harper next year, but overall the draft next year is supposed to be far superior to the one this year," he said.
4:15 p.m.: Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman weighs in with more optimism that a deal will get done. He says Harper is seeking more than the $9.8 million record that Mark Teixeira set for position players, but baseball executives are hopeful the deal won't top the $15.1 million the Nationals gave Strasburg.
One executive told him: "It would be shocking if he didn't sign. Everything he's done to this point in his life has been leading up this moment.''
4:03 p.m.: This Twitter poll of fans from All Nats All the Time shows a unanimous belief that Harper will sign.
3:58 p.m.: We're big Twitter fans at TBD, but this scoop from johnm1616 may not be the most enlightening:
"FWIW, Bryce Harper's Facebook says that his employer is the Washington Nationals."
3:42 p.m.: We've heard the question asked: Why do contract negotiations so often come down to the last day, and presumably the last minutes? Fans and analysts have generally expected tonight to be when the real negotiation starts.
The answer has a lot to do with the complicated nature of baseball economics, and the way big-name agents like Scott Boras conduct their business.
The folks who run MLB recommend that teams decline to give their picks any bonus money above a "slot recommendation" based on where they were drafted. Many teams routinely ignore the request and sign high-end talent for far above their slot value, while other teams obediently stick to the recommendations.
According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, "If clubs choose to stand their ground and pay more than MLB prefers, they're advised to wait as long as possible to make a formal offer or announce the signing. According to one baseball official, that allows a high contract number to inflict the 'the least possible damage'' on other clubs still in the midst of negotiations."
But it works both ways. Players – and more importantly, their agents – have a strong incentive to wait as long as possible. As Mark Zuckerman of Nationals Insider put it: "Boras' only leverage is the midnight deadline, so it behooves him to take it as close to the wire as possible, hoping the threat of not signing Harper forces Mike Rizzo into forking over a few more dollars."
2:55 p.m.: Former Nats GM Jim Bowden tweets:
"Bryce Harper - Nationals making progress in negotiations....should get done around 10m package by midnight est....Harper def signing."
Then ESPN's Jerry Crasnick chimes in:
"An AL scout on Bryce Harper: 'If the kid turns down $10 million-plus, then he needs to go back to school and major in finance.' "
1:56 p.m.: ESPN's Buster Olney is among those believing Harper will sign at the last minute. He said in a video that agents he's spoken to are predicting about $12 million.
"In the end, he'll probably sign because Scott Boras is a smart guy, and he knows Bryce Harper's leverage is never going to be higher than it is today," Olney said.
The anchor pointed out a helpful reminder: Strasburg's deal got done at 11:58 p.m. last year, so this could be a long night.
1:13 p.m.: If Scott Boras loses cell phone reception tonight and the deal doesn't get done, Harper would re-enter the draft next year and the Nationals would get an extra pick as compensation. The same thing happened in 2008 when the Nationals failed to sign Aaron Crow; the extra pick turned into Drew Storen, who is now the Nationals' closer.
In case you're wondering, here are the teams at the bottom of the standings right now, making them the most likely landing spots for Harper if he doesn't sign with the Nats. We hear Pittsburgh is real nice this time of year, and Harper could look forward to achieving the highest honor that can be bestowed upon any Pirate: When he's finally traded for prospects.
Pittsburgh: 39-78 .333
Baltimore: 41-77 .347
Seattle: 46-72 .390
Arizona: 47-72 .395
Kansas City: 49-69 .415
Cleveland: 49-69 .415
12:53 p.m.: Journalists seem pretty convinced Harper will sign. Fans on Twitter don't seem worried.
What we're wondering: Is there anyone out there who's worried? Anyone not yet convinced?
12:23 p.m.: At Fox Sports, Jon Paul Morosi says Harper should sign and learn a little humility. He thinks the hype for Strasburg was more justified since had had been through college and was closer to the majors, while Harper will likely need at least two years in the minor leagues.
11:38 a.m.: So who is this Bryce Harper guy, and why should we care?
Sometimes baseball fans forget, as USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported in a June cover story, that he's just a kid.
But he's a kid that could have enormous implications on the future of baseball in Washington. Read through the archives of Nationals Daily News for the many, many stories and blog posts the site has written about him.
Among our favorites: Jeff Bergin analyzes Bryce Harper the baseball player and projects a 2013 arrival date in D.C. In a separate post, Bergin said adding Harper would give the Nats "an amazing core of talent on par with some of the best young core in baseball."
11:03 a.m.: Some of our favorite reads from around the Web right now:
MASN's Ben Goessling thinks Harper will sign, but he wonders: What would happen if he didn't?
Mark Zuckerman says at Nationals Insider that we shouldn't be surprised it has come down to this and history says there's no need for panic.
In the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell looks at the relationship between the Nats and Scott Boras, one of the game's most reviled characters and the agent for Harper and Steven Strasburg.
10:35 a.m.: ESPN's Jerry Crasnick says his sources are optimistic that Harper will sign, and he makes a compelling case.
Among the good reasons Harper has to play ball: The 2011 draft class is much deeper than 2010's, and there's no guarantee he would be picked first again. A slide out of the first spot could cost him millions.
For those into the inside baseball of contract negotiations, Crasnick also has a detailed explanation of why negotiations tend to stretch on until the last minute.
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