The Washington Nationals appeared to send a pretty significant message after signing left-hander Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal Tuesday. By making the move, the team announced it was going to try and contend, but it also suggested it would do so without Bryce Harper.
While Corbin’s addition should make the Nationals a formidable team in 2018, it pushes the team dangerously close to the luxury tax. The team’s current payroll sits around $190 million, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. With the luxury tax set at $206 million for next season, that would seem to rule out the 26-year-old Harper, who reportedly already turned down a deal that would have paid him around $30 million per season.
But that may not be the case. The Nationals are still considered contenders to bring back Harper, according to Jon Heyman of Fancred. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale suggests the team hasn’t ruled out Harper, but their interest comes with a pretty significant catch.
The #Nats, after signing Patrick Corbin, have not ruled out the possibility of still re-signing Bryce Harper if the deal was structured to their liking.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 4, 2018
The “structured to their liking” line is carrying a lot of weight in that tweet. The Nationals would love to have Harper back, but he’s going to have to either take a much lower yearly salary or sign a contract that contains a lot of deferred money.
While that strategy could work here, it would require a lot of bending over backward by both sides. Harper would have to take a massive discount early on in order to keep the Nationals under the luxury tax. If Harper signed, the Nationals would have to get creative to remain below the luxury tax all season.
The Nationals could also choose to completely ignore the luxury tax. While teams have treated the tax as a strict salary cap, the Nationals were one of the two clubs to pay the luxury tax penalty in 2018. The other was the Boston Red Sox.
In Olney’s hypothetical scenario, the Nationals would pay a $12 million penalty for exceeding the luxury tax limit. He then explains why that might not be a big deal.
Does $12 million sound like a lot of money? To me it does, and probably to you, too. To the Lerners, who knows? Maybe to them, $12 million is simply a surcharge — the cost of doing business to re-sign a superstar who’s going to continue to put butts in the seats for years to come.
Twelve million isn’t an absurd amount in baseball. It’s the yearly cost of an average pitcher. When a team is willing to shell out over $300 million to bring in one player, should it really view an additional $12 million as a road block?
Ultimately, that’s the decision the Nationals are going to have to make. Bringing Harper back and staying under the luxury tax doesn’t seem feasible, even if both sides are willing to get creative. If the Nationals truly want Harper back, they’ll have to be willing to exceed the luxury tax once again.
While that goes against what most other teams are doing, no one is going to complain about the luxury tax if Harper delivers the Nationals a World Series win.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Packers assistant coach fired after tweet
• Team owner pays nearly $100K in Walmart layaway charges
• Ex-NFL star going to prison for attempted murder
• 49ers’ long snapper suspended for second PED violation