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

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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.

Astros take their third bite at the apple in response to Assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s comments

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Last night Sports Illustrated reported that, following the Houston Astros’ Game 6 victory over the Yankees on Saturday night, Astros Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman shouted at a group of three female reporters, “Thank god we got [Roberto] Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna!” Taubman reportedly repeated the phrase half a dozen times. The Sports Illustrated report was later corroborated by no less than four reporters apart from the Sports Illustrated reporter who were in the clubhouse and witnessed the incident.

The comments and their context strongly suggested that Taubman was, at best, making light of the criticism the Astros received for trading for Osuna following his domestic violence suspension resulting from very serious domestic violence charges lodged against him in 2018. To some it smacked of Taubman taking something of a victory lap over the Astros’ controversial — and poorly handled — acquisition of Osuna and came off as extraordinarily insensitive and abjectly tone deaf.

The Astros originally declined comment before the report was published. Late last night, after the story went live and once it became apparent that it cast Taubman in a bad light, they issued an angry and defensive statement, calling the Sports Illustrated article “misleading and completely irresponsible.” Again, despite the fact that the report was corroborated by multiple eyewitnesses. The team’s statement was itself then subjected to intense criticism today.

The Astros are now taking their third bite at the apple, releasing the following statements:

It’s worth noting that nowhere here do the Astros apologize or even reference last night’s statement which, in essence, called Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein a liar. A statement which they no doubt would’ve let be the last word if it hadn’t been met with such pushback. Which suggests that the above statements — of the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” non-apology apology variety — are more about damage control than sincerity.

It’s also worth noting that Taubman’s comment takes the oh-so-common tack of referencing the fact that he is a “husband and a father,” which is irrelevant given that at issue were his acts and words, not his identity. We are not what we believe ourselves to be in our heart of hearts. We are what we do. We are how we treat one another. That’s all that matters. Attempts to deflect from that basic fact of humanity are, just that, deflections. And patronizing ones at that. Taubman’s statement would’ve been way better if it had stopped after the second sentence.

As for owner Jim Crane’s statement, it continues the Astros’ tack of wanting to have it both ways. There is no rule that says they could not have traded for Roberto Osuna. What made the whole episode unseemly, however, is how they claimed to have a “zero tolerance” policy against domestic violence and claimed not to be breaking it when they clearly did so because, hey, Osuna was cheaply had. Which means that they actually have a “some tolerance” policy — as do a lot of teams — but they wanted to act like they were better than that and deflect criticism from those who took issue. Here again, Crane wants it both ways by using what should be a straight apology for one of his top employees’ boorish behavior as an opportunity to once again claim that they are better than they truly are when it comes to domestic violence.

If you don’t have to care about an issue and you, in fact, don’t, hey, don’t care. You may catch hell from people, but you can do what you want. If, however, you want credit for being on top of an issue, do the work to earn it. If you fall short of your or society’s expectations, apologize and try to do better. What you cannot do is fail and then try to use your failure as a means of turning the tables on those who criticize you while claiming that, actually, you’re really really good on the topic.

Major League Baseball has also weighed in:

“Domestic violence is extraordinarily serious and everyone in baseball must use care to not engage in any behavior — whether intentional or not — that could be construed as minimizing the egregiousness of an act of domestic violence.  We became aware of this incident through the Sports Illustrated article.  The Astros have disputed Sports Illustrated’s characterization of the incident.  MLB will interview those involved before commenting further.”

The comment came out at almost the exact same time the Astros’ comments were released, which suggests to me that they were coordinated. Which, hey, they’re all trying to end the conversation about this before the first pitch of tonight’s Game 1. I will not hold my breath for anything to come of MLB’s “interviews” of those involved.