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Assessing Bryce Harper's options and value

First overall pick Bryce Harper was upset by recent comments implying he would not return to junior college and "the likelihood of him going back to school is very real," according to a source close to Harper.

Harper was angered when his college coach, Tim Chambers, and former teammate Tyler Hanks, currently a pitcher for the Nationals' Gulf Coast League team, insisted Harper would not go back to the College of Southern Nevada, the source said. Harper has not discussed his plans with any member of his junior college team.

It's important to note that those close to Harper, including the source, have a stake in letting it be known publicly he might return to school. Of course, keeping open the option of going back to college benefits Harper by giving him more negotiating leverage. Like any college draftee, Harper has enrolled for fall classes at the College of Southern Nevada.

Harper's willingness to play another year at junior college is of vital importance to the Nationals, who have until the clock strikes midnight Monday to sign Harper, a 17-year-old outfielder and power-hitting prodigy.

The narrative of Harper's ascension has by now become familiar: He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16; dropped out of high school after his sophomore year so he could earn a General Equivalency Degree and enroll two years early in college; hit 31 home runs and won the Golden Spikes Award - college baseball's Heisman Trophy - at 17; and was taken with the first overall choice on June 7.

Convention suggests Harper would not have taken the unique steps to attend college early only to delay his entry into major league baseball, that there is nothing more he can accomplish after his remarkable first season at junior college.

But the unprecedented measures also give Harper an unprecedented advantage: If he declines to sign with the Nationals this year, he can re-enter the draft next season and still be only 18, still the same age he would have been had he completed only high school.

However, Harper will face a potential risk in returning to school aside from injury or an unexpected drop in performance. Most executives believe the sport will adopt a rigid salary structure for draft picks in its next collective bargaining agreement, which would take effect by the 2012 draft.

The new system would lock draft picks into a specific bonus and diminished salary, similar to how the NBA operates. So, in 2011, owners will be less likely to shell out rich bonuses to draft picks in the belief that a player who re-enters the draft will have to accept a paltry bonus in 2012.

For the next 55 hours or so, the Nationals and Scott Boras, Harper's high-powered "advisor," will have to sort it all out as they aim to reach an agreement on Harper's value and signing bonus. The Nationals and Boras reached a record-breaking agreement on Stephen Strasburg's contact last year at the last minute.

Strasburg and Harper both won the Golden Spikes Award, but the similarities end there - Strasburg was a 21-year-old pitcher; Harper is a 17-year-old slugger. The Nationals will insist Harper's youth is a sign of unpredictability; Boras will contend it represents unbounded potential.

Harper's unique production under unique circumstances will make it difficult to gauge Harper's value. Harper hit 31 home runs with a wooden bat against junior college pitching in what would have been his junior season of high school. Justin Upton, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones are four other power hitters 18 or younger when chosen with the first pick. They hit 32 home runs combined in their final seasons of high school with aluminum bats.

That comparison is frivolous given the obvious differences in competition, length of seasons, etc. But it underscores what Boras will surely try to argue: No player has ever accomplished as much as Harper at such a young age.

The two prior cases that may most impact Harper's bonus could be Upton, who was 17 when he signed for a then-record signing bonus with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005, and Mark Teixeira, whose $9.5 million overall contract, a major league deal, in 2001 remains a record for position players.

Upton outperformed the price of his contract, reaching the majors by 19 and becoming an all-star by 21. Teixeira was an all-star with the Rangers and eventually netted them four players in a trade, including closer Neftali Feliz and shortstop Elvis Andrus, two key pieces of their current contending team.

In Teixeira's final season, he hit 18 home runs using an aluminum bat -- 13 fewer than Harper hit against junior college pitching using a wooden bat.

Boras could not speak specifically about Harper because it would jeopardize Harper's college eligibility. But his view on the general market for draft picks illustrates his stance. "Since Mark Teixeira signed, revenues in baseball have grown from $3 billion to $7 billion," Boras said. "They want the bonuses of the premier players to remain the same. That makes no sense."

Last season, third overall pick Donovan Tate, a Boras client who was 18 at the time, received a $6.25 million bonus from the San Diego Padres. In 2008, Eric Hosmer, another 18-year-old third overall pick, received $6 million. The first pick that season, Tim Beckman, received a $6.15 million bonus.

Strasburg, last year's top choice, signed a record $15.1 million contract. Strasburg's deal was so big, in part, because he signed a major league contract. Harper's age makes it unlikely he signs a major league contract.

By Adam Kilgore  |  August 14, 2010; 5:03 PM ET
Categories:  Bryce Harper , Stephen Strasburg , draft  | Tags: Bryce Harper, Scott Boras, Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals  
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Next: Rizzo confident that Harper will sign

Comments

Just sign this guy, we need him. Last place sucks, I want a winner, so JUST DO IT

Posted by: REDSKINRAYINCA | August 14, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Just sign this guy, we need him. Last place sucks, I want a winner, so JUST DO IT

Posted by: REDSKINRAYINCA | August 14, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Just sign this guy, we need him. Last place sucks, I want a winner, so JUST DO IT

Posted by: REDSKINRAYINCA | August 14, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

What the F...??? What's the point here with Harpers agent. He's going to score big with his contract so let him sign. He won't play any minor league ball this summer so now that will delay his entry to the Majors. AND PLEASE STOP WITH THE 17 YEARS OLD STUFF. NEXT YEAR HE'LL REALLY TURN 19 NOT 18!!! He's 18 this FALL!!! So enough with the age thing. He's plenty old. In this area he'd be a HS Senior!!!

Posted by: Dog11 | August 14, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

No worries. He'll sign. Where else can you make 10 million and not have to produce. In Notstown, wins or loses don't matter. It's just a game. Who cares? The coaches and players don't. The owners don't. Heck, they got a stadium for free. Sign Bryce, get your bucks and live the life of riley. You'll never have any pressure to preform. Kick around in the minors, come to the majors and lead the league in errors...who cares? Easiest money you'll every make.

Posted by: starsky13 | August 14, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Dear Starsky13,

Don't give up on us, baby
Don't make the wrong seem right
The future isn't just one night
It's written in the moonlight
And painted on the stars
We can't change ours
Don't give up on us, baby
We're still worth one more try
I know we put our last one by
Just for a rainy evening
When maybe stars are few
Don't give up on us,
I know we can still come through

Sincerely,
The Nats

Posted by: DKB755 | August 15, 2010 6:34 AM | Report abuse

Lets just say if he's not smart enough to sign then the Nats never wanted him anyway. The Nats gotta start drafting players with agents that will get them signed early so they can start working.

Posted by: richs91 | August 15, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

This kid is 17 years old..giving him a huge amt. of money is just stupid. If he had a couple of years playing at a major college level, it would be different. Sometimes kids are great in college or the minors..and never make it in the bigs. With this kid..you are talking about..a "child". Strasburg was 21, and highly successful in college..a big difference. The Nats should have had more sense than to draft a KID...and should have gone after a pick who was older, and with a track record at higher levels in the game.
Based on what I am seeing from the Nats...they need pitching soonest..not a kid who may be able to play in two years.

Posted by: blazerguy234 | August 15, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Some of this is an age and maturity thing, some of it is probably who he is. Strasburg had the college experience and maturity to understand that performing at the ML level would be a big challenge, even with his prodigious talents. Harper is being thrust into the spotlight at a much earlier and more susceptible age and seems to embrace the accolades. Holding out for another year really isn't in his interests but Boras has to play the brinksmanship game unitl the clock runs out.

Posted by: Natmeister | August 15, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Sign the guy!!! I'll be up at midnight tomorrow waiting to hear the news

Posted by: MaxnDC | August 15, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Let him go back to college... then karma will bite him in the behind and it will be another player we will be talking about "what could of been". No disrespect to JR College Ball but it is like hitting against glorified HS pitchers anyway.... offer the kid 10 mil, if he rejects it, let him go back to college and then roll the dice next year... as the article says, after next year, there will be a slotted salary structure... he'll get screwed then.

Posted by: rvanags | August 16, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

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