The deal: Harper and the Nationals reached an oral agreement on his current deal less than a minute before the Aug. 16, 2010 midnight deadline to sign draft picks. In the final minutes — when not everything was in writing — the Nationals believed that Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, agreed that the contract would not contain a clause that would allow Harper to opt out of the deal and opt-in to the salary arbitration system once he was eligible. Boras, on the other hand, believes the opt-out clause was included.
When the final written contract came from the Nats, it didn’t have the provision and Harper refused to sign it. Major League Baseball and the Players Association proposed a compromise: a provision 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. The hope being, I presume, that the issue would be moot and the contract would end before Harper was arbitration eligible (like, say, if he spent more time in the minors than ended up spending). But that didn’t happen and Harper now stands to be arbitration eligible if he could opt-out.
A hearing this month, Rosenthal notes, would be penny wise and pound foolish for the Nationals. Yes, if they won they’d have to only pay him $1 million or so under his deal and if they lose he could get $3-4 million in arbitration, perhaps. But it would also tick off Harper a bit, one assumes, and that’s no way to treat the guy you consider to be the future of the franchise.
Or, maybe, the Nats think that Harper is going to head out the door via free agency in four years anyway, and that no amount of kind treatment would change that.