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Nationals Somehow Add New Layers Of Humiliation To Loss Of Bryce Harper

Photo: Patrick Smith (Getty)

The Nationals have historically acquitted themselves far better in free agency than their fellow DC professional sports teams, at least two of whom are excruciatingly awful at signing players. But in their hurry to announce their franchise-altering failure to retain Bryce Harper, they appear to have violated the collective bargaining agreement and pissed off Scott Boras, just the kind of stupid self-injury that would make Bruce Allen proud.

Last week Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner went on the radio and told the world that the Nationals’ offer—reportedly 10 years and $300 million—would not be enough for Harper and agent Boras, and that the team “couldn’t afford to put more than that in” and remain competitive. This is a dumb and self-defeating and self-evidently false thing to say—dumb because no advantage is gained by crying poverty over the airwaves, and false because the Lerner family is insanely rich and can afford another few million bucks a year on top of the $30 million they budgeted for an initial offer. If Bryce is likely to leave for any number of valid reasons beyond the team’s immediate control, that they are too poor to afford him is simply not one of them. But the Nationals stumbled upon another reason why it is inadvisable to run your mouth about contract particulars when no decision has yet been announced—they managed to piss off one of the most powerful agents in sports:

But Boras has raised concerns with the Nationals about Lerner’s comments violating a more specific rule, one etched in the latest collective bargaining agreement. Attachment 49 states that clubs, players or player representatives may not “disclose to the media the substance of contract discussions between a player and a Club, (including but not limited to the facts of offers, the substance of offers, or decisions not to make offers or to withdraw offers) until after terms on the contract have been confirmed by the Office of the Commissioner and the Players Association.”

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It seems unlikely that Attachment 49 exists to keep butthead heirs from setting public expectations ahead of the loss of the most important player in team history. But, strictly applied, it has the benefit of keeping offers and negotiating positions private, all the better to support an agent’s efforts to stir up more and better competing offers. Boras reportedly “was not happy” about Lerner’s comments, and while the Nationals “do not believe Lerner’s comments violate any of those rules,” they’ve also sent general manager Mike Rizzo out to walk those comments back and limply assert that Washington is still in the hunt:

“Bryce is a terrific guy who I have a great affinity for. He’s been with me a long time and he’s been a part of the real core of the Nationals. But Mark was asked to speculate on the radio station. He speculated, and he shot from his heart and said what he thought. But it’s just speculation. I’m not going to speculate, and I don’t think anyone can speculate until you’re in Harp and Kayla’s head. And maybe they don’t even know where he’s going to end up yet. It’s still early in the process. But I never close the door on those type of things. And we haven’t yet.”

It’s gonna be super cool when Harper signs with the Dodgers and all the Nationals have to show for their participation in the process is an angry super-agent and the humiliation of having slipped around in a puddle of their own bullshit. 

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