'God Bless America': Bryce Harper's $400M Price Tag Could Be an MLB Game-Changer

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistDecember 6, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Here the winter meetings are, smack in the Washington Nationals' backyard, and this might be where you can look out and see the end of the line for Bryce Harper in the nation's capital.

We all know the total cost for Harper when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season will exceed that of the White House, the Pentagon and the gross national product of the New York Yankees combined.

But when a "high-ranking Nationals executive" told USA Today's Bob Nightengale that the club is preparing for life after Harper following 2018, because his contract demands will exceed 10 years and $400 million and are far too exorbitant for the club, those numbers rocketed around the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center on Monday like Fourth of July fireworks.

"God bless America," quipped retired starting pitcher Jack Morris. "Apparently, Trump's got this country great again.”

"Bryce Harper's a great player," Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw told B/R of the prospect of Harper and the Nats parting ways. "I think he's going to be OK no matter what.”

"Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that the game of baseball keeps growing exponentially, to be honest with you," Minnesota All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier said. "It's very, very good for the game. You see it in a lot of teams, the revenues they bring in with TV and stadiums, everything. It keeps growing and growing, which is good for all of us.”

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The ink on baseball's brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement isn't even dry yet, and already heavy speculation regarding one of the game's best players needs a hose and some coolant.

Several current and former players were in town for a press conference and subsequent party thrown by Under Armour, which announced that, starting in 2020, the company will be the exclusive provider of all on-field uniforms, including jerseys featuring UA branding, for all 30 clubs. Though the company's most flashy representative wasn't in attendance, Harper certainly was there in spirit.

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"That's a lot of money but, obviously, Bryce is a young talent that doesn't come around very often," said Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman. "The money that's around, the money you see Giancarlo Stanton get [$325 million over 13 years], those are game-changing players.

"Obviously, $400 million is a lot of money, but he's put up an MVP, he's young and he can do it all in every aspect. But to see someone get $400 million…it's going to be interesting to see if he gets it. But it's a tough situation because if you give someone $400 million, it's tough to put together a team, you've got 24 other guys to field. I guess we'll find out together."

Some numbers always have sent imaginations soaring in baseball. Babe Ruth's 714 home runs. Roger Maris' 61 home runs in 1961. Ted Williams hitting .400 and Alex Rodriguez's groundbreaking $252 million deal with Texas in 2000. Times change, landscapes change and priorities change.

Now, with Stanton pulling down more than $300 million, a weak free-agent class this winter is stoking eager minds to look toward the class that will practically be encased in gold in two years. Following the '18 season, Harper leads a group that also will include Manny Machado, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, Zach Britton and Matt Harvey.

Short-term, the Nationals spent much of Monday working to acquire ace Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox and were still hard at work on that late into the night, according to B/R sources. This is a team that has won 95 or more games in three of the past five seasons and has yet to win one playoff series.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 07:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals walks off the field after an injury in the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on September 7, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

Two winters ago, the Nationals laid out $210 million for ace pitcher Max Scherzer. Six years ago, they shocked the baseball world by spending $126 million to make outfielder Jayson Werth the veteran centerpiece of a growing young team. Four years ago, they signed slugger Ryan Zimmerman to a $100 million extension. And last May, they avoided losing starter Stephen Strasburg to free agency this winter by signing him to a seven-year, $175 million deal.

This is not a club that adheres to a Draconian budget.

But the Nationals so far are giving no indication that they are willing to break records with Harper. Scott Boras, Harper's longtime agent, texted Nightengale that his only negotiations with the Nats have been surrounding arbitration and a deal for the 2017 season.

"He's going to get a lot because he's a talent that's once in a generation," Freeman said. "You don't get a talent like that to come through baseball very often. You hear about the Mike Trouts, the Stantons, the Bryce Harpers, you hear about those guys because they are so good and so big for this game.

"They're going to set the bar for a lot of players, and if someone can afford them, they're going to get them. He's definitely a game-changer."

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 11, 2016 in Los Angeles, California
Harry How/Getty Images

During his 21-year career, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. earned roughly $71 million total, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He also famously played his entire career for one team, the Baltimore Orioles. Told that maybe he could have made $500 million playing today, Ripken chuckled, saying, "to me, it's all relative."

Regarding Harper, Ripken said, "I love his grit and determination. I think sometimes his fieriness makes opponents a little bothered with some of that stuff, but he's a guy you want on your team. He's very self-motivated."

A lot can happen in two years, of course.

But on a Monday to fire up the Hot Stove at the winter meetings, the numbers seemed staggering…and, amazingly reachable.

"If he gets $400 million and all these guys are getting $300 million, $200 million, it's incredible. Even what I got, I never fathomed I'd get something like that," said Freeman, who signed an eight-year, $135 million deal in February 2014. "This game is growing so much, to be able to afford $400 million just shows how good and how far baseball has come to give someone that kind of money."

"You gotta enjoy it while you can, man," said Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips. "This is a dream, and one day you'll wake up."

Morris has just one question for Harper, and it pertains to the man who served as executive director of the MLB Players Association from 1966-1982: "Does he know who Marvin Miller is?

"If he knows who Marvin Miller is, God bless him. If he doesn't, I'm ashamed of him."


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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