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Nightengale: Bryce Harper, Nationals Reach Unusual Contract Deal

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Washington's Bryce Harper hits during a game against the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. Harper was the leading vote-getter for the 2017 MLB All-Star Game. Photo: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

In an unusual midseason agreement, the Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper came to terms on a one-year, $21.65 million contract extension that gives both club and player cost certainty ahead of Harper’s expected free agency after the 2018 season.

The Nationals announced Saturday that they’d reached agreement on a 2018 contract for Harper, a record for an arbitration-eligible player. The deal includes a $1 million bonus should Harper win the 2018 MVP award, along with $500,000 for a runner-up finish, down to $100,000 for a fifth-place finish.

Harper will also receive $100,000 each for an All-Star selection, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

While multiyear deals that take arbitration-eligible players to the doorstep of free agency are common – such as Lorenzo Cain’s two-year, $17.5 million deal with Kansas City that expires after this season – an in-season agreement for a player’s forthcoming sixth season are rare. But the Nationals offered Harper a salary number that likely would have exceeded what he would have received via arbitration after 2017.

While it may be just as it appears – a bit of early winter housekeeping – the agreement does indicate a degree of good faith on both sides’ parts. The Nationals could have let Harper play out the season and slot his 2018 salary accordingly.

With Harper off to a fine start – he’s batting .372 with an NL-best .496 on-base percentage, 10 home runs and a 1.213 OPS – the Nationals foresaw a significant raise coming, anyway. Harper will make $13.625 million this season.

Agent Scott Boras told USA TODAY Sports the sides initiated dialogue on an ’18 deal last winter, but couldn’t reach an accord. In striking this agreement, Boras cited two former MVPs with similar service time – Mike Trout and Ryan Howard – as comps for Harper’s salary.

Trout, who signed a six-year, $144.5 million extension that carries him through 2020, will make $19.25 million in 2017, his sixth season of service. Howard, like Trout and Harper an MVP within his first three seasons of service time, made a record $20 million in 2013, his sixth season.

Harper will vault that number, but Boras estimates that if Harper wins a second MVP award this year, he could have earned a $25 million arbitration award this coming winter.

That was a process neither side wanted to engage in, however.

“It would have been a difficult one, certainly a different one,” Boras said of engaging the Nationals in arbitration before Harper’s final season. “This (agreement) certainly illustrates that we can work together.”

And by settling this matter now, it at least shows both sides are talking as Harper approaches a 2018 winter in which he should shatter Alex Rodriguez’s record 10-year, $275 million pact for a free agent.

The Nationals will have significant competition to retain Harper’s services after 2018 – and may have already determined he’ll be too pricey, anyway. But at the least, they have ensured the air will be clear until then – and the club can make a run at a World Series this year and next with the 24-year-old superstar in the fold.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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