Nats owner Ted Lerner on Bryce Harper: "I really don't expect him to come back at this point"

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/was" data-ylk="slk:Nationals">Nationals</a> owner Ted Lerner reportedly does not expect superstar Bryce Harper to return. (AP)
Nationals owner Ted Lerner reportedly does not expect superstar Bryce Harper to return. (AP)

Perhaps the biggest question hanging over this offseason has been where Bryce Harper will eventually sign.

The Washington Nationals have reportedly offered their superstar a 10-year, $300 million contract, although that does not appear to be enough for Harper and his agent, Scott Boras. Nats owner Ted Lerner spoke with 106.7 The Fan on Friday at the introductory press conference for left-hander Patrick Corbin, and he was far from optimistic about the prospect of his superstar returning.

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“I really don’t expect him to come back at this point,” Lerner said. “I think they’ve decided to move on. There’s just too much money out there that he’d be leaving on the table. That’s just not Mr. Boras’ MO to leave money on the table.”

How does Patrick Corbin’s deal affect Harper?

The Nationals have already made perhaps the biggest splash of the offseason by signing Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract. Washington was in the hunt for starting pitching with unproven Joe Ross and Erick Fedde previously slated to be their No. 4 and 5 starters, and Corbin — along with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg — gives them perhaps the best 1-2-3 punch atop any rotation.

Still, the Nationals appear interested in bringing back Harper. However, if their previous offer wasn’t enough, it’s hard to imagine them being able to add much more money after dropping so much money on Corbin.

“Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, ‘This is the best we can do.’ We went right to the finish line very quickly,” Lerner said. “And we said, ‘If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we’ll see whether we can finish it up.’ But we just couldn’t afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that.”

What does a Harper-less Nationals look like?

Since moving to D.C. in 2005, the Nationals have not had a winning season without Harper, so it can be hard to picture the team without him. However, due to excellent scouting, the Nats do have a strong contingency plan.

Washington’s outfield would be young, but with NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Juan Soto in left, Victor Robles in center, and Adam Eaton in right, the Nationals still have the making of a very strong outfield.

Robles has been a top-10 prospect since 2017 and likely would have been a regular last year had a hyperextended elbow not paved the way for Soto’s breakout. Eaton, meanwhile, has battled injuries in his two years with the Nats but hit .300/.394/.422 when healthy. They even have Michael A. Taylor as an overqualified fourth outfielder.

“We feel very strongly we’re in good shape,” Lerner said. “It’ll be a young, pretty incredible outfield defensively, and certainly with the bat it’s going to be special. I think Adam, now I think he’s back. He had that season. And I think Adam with the two young guys, it’s going to be a special outfield.”

Can the Nationals compete without Harper?

The Nationals were heavy favorites to win the NL East last year before disaster struck and they finished a measly 82-80. But even with additions across the board for their division rivals — Josh Donaldson for the Atlanta Braves, Jean Segura for the Philadelphia Phillies, and Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano for the New York Mets — the Nationals should still be squarely in the race.

Beyond upgrading their rotation with Corbin, the Nationals have already fixed their biggest hole: catcher. The team ranked 27th in baseball with a 64 wRC+ at catcher, as their backstops hit .209/.299/.312 last season. Now they’ve brought in Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki to split time behind the plate after they hit a combined .268/.322/.447.

With an improved battery and potentially more money to spend elsewhere, the Nationals will be able to mostly make up for the departure of one of the game’s signature stars. But that won’t mean they won’t miss him.

“This was a special six years,” Lerner said. “And he’ll still be iconic in the city, when he comes in playing for another team. We’ll do right by him and have a real ceremony. You can’t be mad at him, and I don’t think he’d be mad at us if we can’t go any further.”

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