Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper and Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant go way back. The two grew up in Las Vegas, and since they are only one year apart, played against each other pretty often as kids.
Occasionally, they got to play together. A 14-year-old Bryant was teammates with a 13-year-old Harper on the Southern Nevada Bulldogs. A little over 10 years later, it looks like they are trying to re-create that magic.
What you see above is a picture Harper posted to his Instagram following Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the Cubs. There’s nothing scandalous about that, right? Just two guys who know each other from childhood reuniting. Nothing to see here.
Well, take a closer took at one of the hashtags on that post. It reads #Back2BackOneDay. In a normal situation, we might just ignore that. But given some of things we’ve heard about Harper over the last few months, we’re going to read into that hashtag way too much.
Harper is slated to become a free-agent following the 2018 season. While the Nationals could lock him up before then, Harper is represented by Scott Boras. Boras has a bit of a reputation for getting his clients to the open market.
Harper is also expected to receive a massive deal. Possibly a record-breaking contract. The Nationals have shown a willingness to spend on star players in the past, but ownership has had to defer payments in those deals. Some free agents have declined offers from the club for this reason. Harper re-signing there is far from guaranteed.
But here’s the kicker, and the reason Cubs fans are allowed to get excited about this post. In early June, veteran reporter Peter Gammons said people have told him Harper would “prefer to play for the Cubs.” Combine that rumor with Harper’s hashtag and … well, things are getting interesting.
Now, here’s the part where we rain on that parade. First off, Harper still remains a year and a half away from hitting the market. His situation can change. It’s possible the Nationals make Harper an incredible offer he can’t refuse, even with Boras around. Maybe the Nationals win the World Series in 2017 and Harper decides to stick with them long-term because he feels sentimental and nostalgic. Those things might not be likely, but we can’t rule them out.
The bigger factor might be the Cubs’ ability to afford Harper. Gammons mentioned at the time of the rumor that financial factors could derail a possible deal before things get too serious. The Cubs have $71.8 million already guaranteed for 2019, and that doesn’t include arbitration raises to guys like Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez, among others.
While the Cubs have shown a willingness to carry a big budget, our own Jeff Passan doesn’t believe they will be one of the five best-positioned teams the winter Harper is available. He classifies them as “have money, will spend.” They can probably bring in an elite player, but a record-breaking contract might be asking too much.
Of course, none of that really matters if Harper will take a smaller contract to play with his childhood friend. Hey, we’ve seen players do that in the NBA in order to create super-teams and chase rings. It could happen.
But it doesn’t seem likely. Harper is looking at a historic deal and the opportunity to play for any team he likes. Would he really take a significantly lower offer just to play with Bryant when he could make more and play for another strong contender?
Because of that, we’re going to assume Harper’s hashtag is nothing more than some fun reminiscing on his part. Unless, you know, it’s not.
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