Bryce Harper returns to Washington

Getty Images

Normally there are months and months — occasionally years, if the player changes leagues — between a free agent signing with a new team and that player’s return to his old ballpark. Given that Bryce Harper did not sign with the Phillies until March and given that the Phillies and Nats play in the same division, those months of build-up to and anticipation of a reunion were significantly curtailed: Harper and the Phillies will be in Nats Park tonight, with a first pitch of 7:05PM Eastern Time.

You’ve heard of Bryce Harper, right? The number one overall pick in the 2010 draft who made his debut with the Nationals in 2012? The guy who won the Rookie of the Year Award that season and the MVP Award of 2015 and who, despite all of his detractors and despite all of the people who have cast him as some sort of disappointment, stands as, arguably, the best player in the Nats’ brief history?  I suppose Ryan Zimmerman has him beat thanks to having played in D.C. for seven more seasons, but it’s hard to argue that Harper isn’t the best Nat on a dollar-per-dollar basis.

Dollars. That’s the reason he’s not a Nat anymore, right? Despite free agency not being what it once was for some, it was very, very good for Bryce Harper given that (a) he’s a big star; and (b) he hit free agency at a far younger age than most guys do. Yes, it took his market a good while to develop, but when a team is willing to give you $330 million and a thirteen-year deal, you take it. The Nationals were unwilling to come close to that, of course. They offered Harper an extremely back-loaded deal with deferred money until Harper would be in his 60s on a take-it-or-leave it basis and Harper left it. As I’m guessing most of us would. And, as I’m guessing, most Nationals fans would if they were in Harper’s shoes.

Yet, as we noted last week, there is still a contingent of Nationals fans who feel betrayed by Harper for some reason. And columnists for that matter. Which has everyone wondering what kind of reception Harper will receive when his name is announced and he enters the batter’s box in the first inning of tonight’s game.

I suspect it’ll be mixed, with the vast majority of people offering either the silent indifference due any opposing player and a polite but muted applause often given to returning greats. In volume, however, they will be trumped by the small minority of fans who feel betrayed and decide that they need to passionately boo Harper because HOW DARE HE?! Added to their voices will be the ones who just think it’ll be funny to boo Harper because, “Hey, why not? He’s rich and he can take it.” Being honest, these are my favorite people because baseball games are supposed to be fun and there’s nothing wrong with a little booing a big famous guy, as long as you’re not seriously aggrieved about things. I’d probably be in the “performatively-but-not-passionately-boo” camp if I’m being honest.

Harper will be asked about all of this 50 times before the game and 50 times after and, my guess anyway, is that he doesn’t really care about the boos or the cheers, even if he knows he’ll have to talk about them. He’s probably far more worried about having to face Max Scherzer tonight. And he should be. Max Scherzer is really good and he doesn’t have any compunction about throwing one inside to a guy who thinks he owns the plate. If I was in the press gaggle in the Nats clubhouse tonight I’d probably ask him about how plans to approach Scherzer than a bunch of half-drunk yahoos from Northern Virginia who think that Harper owed it to them to take a worse offer to stay in town.

Anyway, as division rivals, the Phillies and Nats are going to face each over 200 times in the course of Harper’s contract, so eventually this will become no big deal. But for tonight it’s kind of a big deal. I’m genuinely curious to see — and hear — how it goes.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Harper is saying some nice things about D.C. in advance of his return:

View this post on Instagram

If you would have told me 5 years ago I would be walking into Nationals Park as an opposing player, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. Five years later, I’m doing just that. I remember the first day I walked into Nats Park. My first base hit. My first home run. And, of course, my first standing ovation. Nationals fans delivered that first ovation. The things that I will miss most are the relationships I gained on a personal level with so many of the Nationals staff and workers around the ballpark. Every day I walked in, I got a smile or shared a laugh with you. I especially want to thank The Lerner Family and Mike Rizzo for the unwavering support they showed me during my tenure in DC. The city of DC was home. Filomena’s, The Silver Diner, The Italian store, and countless other places helped make it feel like home. You, Nationals fans, made me one of your own for the entire time I was a part of the Nationals organization. I’m so blessed to have been able to play for a fan base that cared so much about our team each and every night. You will always hold a special place in my heart no matter what. I look forward to continuing Harpers Heroes with LLS in the DMV as well as making sure the legacy fields bearing my name are the best youth fields in town! When I run on the field tonight I am sure to hear some boos, but I will always remember the cheers and the screams that are still with me right now, as I start my new chapter. So for that, DC, THANK YOU.

A post shared by Bryce Harper (@bryceharper3) on

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.