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Bryce Harper and the Nationals could be headed to a grievance hearing next winter

Nov 16, 2013, 12:28 PM EDT

Bryce Harper Getty Getty Images

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post passes along some interesting (and to my knowledge, previously unknown) information on the unique contract arrangement between the Nationals and outfielder Bryce Harper and why it could lead to a grievance hearing next offseason.

Harper, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 draft, reached an oral agreement on his current deal less than a minute before the Aug. 16 midnight deadline to sign picks. The five-year major league contract, rare for a draftee, called for Harper to be paid $9.9 million, including a signing bonus of $6.25 million. However, the Nationals insisted that the contract not contain a clause that would allow Harper to opt out of the contract terms and into baseball’s lucrative salary arbitration system once he was eligible; Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, was equally adamant that the virtually standard opt-out clause be included.

Days later, the Nationals presented a final written contract that did not contain an opt-out clause. Anticipating the possibility that Harper, at the time 17, could reach the majors sooner than expected, Boras and the Harper family refused to sign it.

At that time, Major League Baseball and the Players Association took the unusual step of interceding with a compromise: a letter of agreement stating that, if Harper qualified for salary arbitration before he reached the end of the contract, a grievance hearing would determine whether he could opt of his contract.

Kilgore was able to get Scott Boras and two other people to confirm the details of the arrangement. This could all come to a head next offseason, as Harper will almost certainly qualify for arbitration as as Super Two player. His current contract calls for him to make $1.5 million in 2015, but he would obviously make a lot more if he was able to go through the arbitration process.

It’s worth noting that Harper remains under team control through 2018 no matter what, so the Nationals aren’t in danger of losing him anytime soon. However, playing hardball with his arbitration status could create some bad blood with someone who is expected to be a franchise player for years to come. Kilgore hears that the two sides have recently discussed the issue and would like to reach a solution. If anything, this could provide the impetus needed for talks about a long-term extension. You may recall that Boras hinted about the possibility of a 12-year deal back in August.

  1. aphillieated - Nov 16, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    When Bryce Harper is about to go to sleep he checks under his bed for walls.

  2. chiadam - Nov 16, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    How is this the business of the Union or MLB? They do not negotiate contracts. Clubs and agents do.

    • stex52 - Nov 16, 2013 at 2:21 PM

      Good question. Why did they get involved?

      • richarddansky - Nov 16, 2013 at 2:40 PM

        Yes. How did the professional labor organization that collectively negotiates the parameters for contracts and advocates for its members in disputes with ownership get involved in a possible contract dispute? It’s a mystery.

      • stex52 - Nov 16, 2013 at 2:47 PM

        Really? Do they typically get involved? If the Nats couldn’t sign him, why didn’t h just go into the pool for next year like players on other teams? And why was the MLB involved?

        The article itself said it was an unusual step.

      • stex52 - Nov 16, 2013 at 2:48 PM

        Besides. Harper wasn’t a member at that point.

      • chiadam - Nov 16, 2013 at 3:02 PM

        dansky..I’ll wait here while you cite all the other times MLB and the Union have done something like this. What’s that? They never do? Oh, well then this must be the first time a club and player have ever argued over language. What’s that? Clubs and players always argue over language and no one ever did this before? But anyway, you were saying something stupid. Please, go on.

      • stex52 - Nov 16, 2013 at 10:51 PM

        Cute trick with the multiple thumbs down. Not very intelligent or original, but cute. doesn’t make your comment any more intelligent either.

      • rje49 - Nov 17, 2013 at 9:49 PM

        Do you recall, about 10 years ago, when A-Rod was going to be traded from the Rangers to the Red Sox but the deal fell through because union rules didn’t allow A-Rod to take a cut in pay during his contract? Being a Red Sox fan, but anti-union, I’d have to thank the union for that one!

  3. Stiller43 - Nov 16, 2013 at 4:25 PM

    Didnt everyone think he was going to the yanks the first chance he got for an absurd mega deal?

    This could help things along…

    • David Proctor - Nov 16, 2013 at 5:33 PM

      The Nationals have the richest owners in baseball and have shown a willingness to spend, as evidenced by their ever growing payroll. The Nats can afford to keep him. That’s not to say that they definitely 100% will. But they an afford to.

      • jwbiii - Nov 16, 2013 at 5:45 PM

        Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, has a market value of $17b. Are the Lerners wealthier than that?

      • sumerduckman - Nov 16, 2013 at 6:03 PM

        The Lerners are the richest people that own a baseball team. If corporations, like Liberty Media, are people too, then they get the prize.

      • David Proctor - Nov 16, 2013 at 6:05 PM

        This is true and perhaps what I said was a tad misleading in that regard. Unintentional. Regardless, the point stands that they can afford to bring him back and they’re not going to lose a bidding war unless they want to.

  4. buffalo65 - Nov 16, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    Shouldn’t he have a great season before he gets a mega deal?

    • David Proctor - Nov 16, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      Not really. If you believe he’s going into the star he’s projected to be (and make no mistake, if you make a list of players with Harper’s numbers at his age, it’s a lot of Hall of Famers), then it makes sense to give him a mega deal soon. Why? Because the mega deal is going to get a whole lot more mega soon. It’s essentially buying low, although low for Harper is a .850 OPS as a 20 year old.

    • jcmeyer10 - Nov 16, 2013 at 5:40 PM

      The funny thing is by the time he becomes a free agent, the QO for free agents will probably closer to 20 million so this could be a great buy low moment based on the idea that salaries will go up across the board.

  5. jamesweltyms - Jan 15, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    If the Nats can’t sign Harper then who will sign him? A consensus building here ( is that Harper will cost 10 years and $230MM+.

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