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The Nationals’ “$300 million offer” to Bryce Harper was not as good as you think

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All offseason, whenever the matter of the free agent market has arisen, readers have swooped into my mentions and comments to tell me that everything is fine and that it’s actually the players who are unreasonable. The evidence cited: “Bryce Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals!” If I’ve heard that once I’ve heard it six hundred times.

Well, turns out that there was a catch: a full one-third of that was deferred money, reducing the deal considerably in terms of present value. From MLB.com:

Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Nationals have no plans to give Harper a mega-deal comparable to Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, likely ending any chance for Washington’s longtime face of the franchise to remain with the club. The Nationals offered Harper a contract worth $300 million over 10 years before the end of the 2018 regular season. Harper and his agent Scott Boras rejected the deal.

Two sources said that roughly $100 million of that offer would have been deferred money, lowering the present-day value of the contract.

As Craig Edwards of Fangraphs tweeted a bit ago, a ten year, $300 million deal that pays $20 million a year for ten years then $10 million a year, deferred, after that has the same present value as a straight 10-year deal for $244 million. There are other ways to structure that — shorter deferral periods or longer, Bobby Bonilla-style periods — but no matter how you slice it, deferring one-third of a $300 million deal is a big financial hit for the player compared to the stated and widely-reported “$300 million offer.”

To be petty: when that “$300 million offer” was reported last November, I said this:

The offer was reportedly for roughly $300 million over a ten-year span. How much of that was deferred, backloaded or what have you is unknown . . . As with all reports like these, it’s worth appreciating that someone may have an incentive to put this out there. In this case, I suspect, the Nationals, to signal to fans that they made an effort to lock Harper up before he was able to negotiate with teams other than Washington. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but just how specifically good or bad the deal was is not something we can know.

Well, now we know.

Anyway, as the MLB.com story notes, Harper was not taking that kind of deal from the Nationals and the Nats aren’t sweetening it, so the chances of him going back to Washington are, apparently, nil.

The takeaway: be wary of reported offers. Both when they favor the team’s interest and when they favor the player’s interest. Every single on of those reports, however interesting, and however often they may be correct, have an agenda behind them.

Blue Jays release John Axford

John Axford
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The Blue Jays have released right-handed reliever John Axford from his minor league contract, per an announcement on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi speculates that the move could provide an avenue for the club to rework Axford’s contract, but the Blue Jays have yet to confirm or deny the report.

Axford, 35, was dealt a blow on Thursday after getting diagnosed with a stress reaction in the olecranon bone of his right elbow. Elbow soreness dogged the right-hander through much of his time in camp, and although he was scheduled for a follow-up examination later this spring, a definite return date had not been established.

Prior to the diagnosis, Axford was tabbed for a setup role with the team in 2019. He pitched to mixed results in 2018 (thanks in part to a late-season fracture of his right fibula) with a 5.27 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, and 9.8 SO/9 through 54 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. Now, however, it’s not certain that he’ll return to the mound this season in any capacity.

Axford isn’t the only reliever the Blue Jays have lost to injury lately, either, as right-handers Ryan Tepera and Bud Norris have been sidelined with right elbow inflammation and forearm fatigue, respectively. Per Davidi, the Blue Jays offered Norris a $100,000 retention bonus to prevent him from opting out of the minor league contract he signed in February.