Bryce Harper, the homer-hitting 17-year-old from Las Vegas, is said by sources to be seeking to beat Mark Teixeira's $9.8-million signing record bonus for a position players but baseball executives are hopeful Harper won't top Stephen Strasburg's record $15.067-million set a year ago. No word has leaked yet on the Nationals' offers to Harper, whom Washington took with the No. 1 overall pick in June's draft.
Seventeen of 32 first-round picks remained unsigned heading into deadline day today, but baseball executives around the league say they believe the vast majority will be last-hour or even last-minute signings -- and that includes the top two picks, the slugging prodigy Harper and superb young pitcher Jameson Taillon.
Regarding Harper, one baseball exec said, "It would be shocking if he didn't sign. Everything he's done to this point in his life has been leading up this moment.''
The Harper deal is being negotiated by the very same entities that worked out Strasburg's deal this time last year -- the Washington Nationals and adviser Scott Boras.
Taillon, a Pirates pick, is also a prodigy, a big right-handed high school pitcher from the Houston area who's wowed scouts with his stuff and poise. Taillon also should receive a big bonus, expected to be for $5 million, or perhaps a bit more. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said via text of his team's chances to sign Taillon, "We remain optimistic."
Folks around the game say the Nationals don't believe Harper is likely to pass on their offers and re-enter the draft next year, which is considered better and deeper, and includes another big power hitter, third baseman Anthony Rendon, from Rice University. Nationals president Stan Kasten offered only two words by text regarding word going around the game that Harper will sign: "Hope so.''
Strasburg has turned into a sensation for the Nationals, and while he shares an agent with Harper, that didn't prevent Strasburg from saying, "If (Harper) wants to play here, he's going to play here ... If he doesn't want to play here, then we don't want him here.'' That was a funny comment from a more mature player who himself didn't sign until moments before the deadline last year.
A big part of Boras' contention regarding Harper's value -- beyond his prodigious feats that included batting .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in a wood-bat league for the College of Southern Nevada -- has been the history of No. 1 overall picks who were power hitters and succeeded, including Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Gonzalez.
Strasburg, who is 5-3 with a 2.97 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings, has been a monstrous part of the image change of the Nationals this year, and his starts have drawn huge crowds. The value of the franchise is even said to be way up, according to Forbes.com.
One player who was thought to be a "tough sign" is Zach Lee, a right-handed pitcher chosen by the Dodgers with the 26th overall pick. The sides made progress Monday, and folks may be surprised to see Lee ink a deal by midnight, a source said. Lee, who doubles as a quarterback at LSU, reportedly did not attend the Tigers' Monday afternoon practice.
Lee is said by people to have received an offer from the Dodgers that likely encompasses his dual sports. The Dodgers are in a difficult financial situation due to their divorcing owners and legal bills, so the person thought the Dodgers' offer may be backloaded.
The top pick to sign so far was Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon, who got $2.75 million from the Royals as the No. 4 pick. Boras has pointed out that when he has excellent but less than iconic players, he doesn't try to break the bank, as was the case here. Harper is not on Colon's category, though.