By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Already the Cubs-Nationals series in Washington this week had an undercurrent Bryce Harper storyline, and that was before the star outfielder hashtagged the speculators to a new level of excitement late Tuesday night.
Harper is under contract through 2018 after signing a one-year extension in May that avoided arbitration, and all kinds of wild future scenarios were ignited by veteran reporter Peter Gammons when he told 670 The Score in early June that, “I have people who tell me Bryce Harper would prefer to play for the Cubs.” Gammons qualified that by noting that Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant would be due a mega-deal of his own, and that the prospect of the two Las Vegas natives and childhood teammates reuniting in Chicago was highly unlikely.
But now comes Harper’s Instagram post — a picture of he, Bryant and their wives together inside Nationals Park.
It’s that last sentiment that’s only going to drive more thought that Harper has designs on something beyond Washington.
Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for the Washington Post, and she didn’t dismiss such conjecture when she joined the Bernstein and Goff Show on 670 The Score on Monday.
“There is certainly a sense that he wants to play in a big market, and obviously Chicago is one of those fits,” she said. “It’s a thing that hovers over everything — is Bryce happy? What’s he thinking? Is he gonna go? How much money does he want? All this stuff that’s just constant.”
And this is ongoing as the Nationals are having the Cubs’ 2016 so far, powering their way to a nine-game lead in the NL East at 46-31, thanks in large part to Harper’s 3.1 WAR. He and agent Scott Boras are said to be eying a deal that could be worth close to half-a-billion dollars, even as the landscape for potential suitors is shifting.
“There is a resignation here that he is probably going to go elsewhere,” Janes said. “But you look at the market, and it’s changed. The Yankees might not need him. What do the Dodgers want? The Cubs? These big-money teams, they have people. You might not need Bryce Harper for $400 million.”
She noted that there’s still hope that Harper stays, with the possibility of such market pressure leading him to settle for something more reasonable to remain in Washington.
Not to mention that a Harper signing wouldn’t be in character for the Cubs, who prefer to avoid paying for the decline years of major position players — Ben Zobrist an obvious exception — and are calculating now from the position of already having won a World Series. It’s also clear that Boras understands that such discussion doesn’t hurt his client’s bargaining power and that the free agency environment now isn’t necessarily predictive of how it will appear when the time comes for Harper to begin soliciting offers. Hashtag intrigue has no downside for him, that is to say.
This all could be flipped in the other direction as well, as Boras also happens to represent the other player in that photo.
Bryant himself is a free agent after 2021, and #Back2BackOneDay could be anywhere by then.