The Washington Nationals aren't conceding Bryce Harper to free agency just yet.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Nationals "have not ruled out the possibility of still re-signing Harper if the deal was structured to their liking" even in the wake of making a splash by signing starting pitcher Patrick Corbin on Tuesday.
Corbin's deal reportedly is for six years and $140 million, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, pairing Corbin with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to give the Nationals a fearsome big three in their rotation.
Harper, 26, is likely set to command something in the range of a $300 million contract this winter, as one of the truly elite players on the market alongside infielder Manny Machado. He already reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million deal for the Nationals, however, meaning Washington would likely have to sweeten the pot to re-sign him.
"We've had conversations and we utilized our exclusivity to negotiate with him late in the season through when he became eligible to sign with a team," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier in November, per ESPN.com. "We didn't get anything done, but he's a guy that is near and dear to us and we are not closing any doors."
Corbin's signing doesn't preclude Harper's return, but it almost certainly makes it less likely for a number of factors, as Nightengale outlined:
Whether Harper is worth such an enormous potential contract remains to be seen. But as one high-ranking executive told B/R's Scott Miller, Harper possesses tantalizing talent, even if he perhaps hasn't yet become a once-in-a-generation player:
"It's kind of like when a prospect is at A-ball, he's a can't-miss guy, right? Then he goes to Double-A, and as you move up the line, flaws get exposed. It's kind of my sense of what happened a little bit with Harper. We're not really in that mix. He's still an unbelievable player at an age when players really don't come available. Does he have some flaws? Yes, he does.
"That's, one, to be expected, and, when you compare everyone to Mike Trout, everyone looks bad in comparison. But he's still a hell of a player."
Harper had an up-and-down year in 2018, at least by his own standards, hitting just .249 on the season. That was somewhat offset by his .393 on-base percentage, along with his 34 homers, 100 RBI, 103 runs and 13 stolen bases. There's little doubt that Harper can anchor the middle of a lineup, possessing impressive power. His batting average has fluctuated throughout his career, however, resting currently at .279.
No, he isn't Trout. But he's going to be paid elite money. Whether the Nationals can pony up that sort of investment to keep him remains to be seen.