Nationals sign Bryce Harper for $9.9M

Updated: August 17, 2010, 3:00 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper. Stephen Strasburg. Negotiating with super-agent Scott Boras right up until the last possible second to get a deal done.

The Washington Nationals are getting the hang of this whole sign-the-top-pick routine, something they hope not to do again.

No. 1 overall draft choice Harper and the Nationals agreed to a $9.9 million, five-year contract in the seconds before the deadline of midnight ET Monday -- a year after coming to terms with 2009 top selection Strasburg on a record deal with a little more than a minute to go.

Harper and Strasburg are both represented by Boras.

"Suffice it to say, both sides gave up ground at the last second to get the deal done," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said.

Rizzo, in an e-mail to ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, said, "I believe it was 26 seconds before the deadline," when asked when the deal with Harper was done.

The Nationals owned the No. 1 picks in 2009 and 2010 because they finished the 2008 and 2009 seasons with the worst records in the majors.

Strasburg's $15.1 million, four-year contract was the highest for any player out of the draft, and the right-handed pitcher made his big league debut June 8, the day after Harper was picked.

Harper's deal is a record total for a non-pitcher signed out of the draft who had not become a free agent. Current New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira set the previous record for a major league deal for a position player, getting a $9.5 million, four-year deal from the Texas Rangers in 2001.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper is a 17-year-old power-hitting junior college catcher the Nationals plan to convert to an outfielder. He's the first juco player taken with the first overall selection.

"It gives us another impact player in the system," Rizzo said. "He's a guy who could possibly be a cornerstone in our lineup in the very near future."

Harper hit .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBIs in his first season at the College of Southern Nevada, which plays in a league that uses wooden bats. He skipped his final two years of high school and got his GED, making him eligible for the 2010 amateur draft.

He already was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, touted as "baseball's chosen one" and "the most exciting prodigy since [Miami Heat forward] LeBron [James]." He was the first non-senior to earn Baseball America's High School Player of the Year award. And he was only the second junior college player, joining Alex Fernandez in 1990, to win the Golden Spikes Award, given to the country's top amateur baseball player.

"Essentially, it was discussion of a lot of variables because of the power of the player, the age of the player, what position players have been historically paid in the draft," Boras said in a telephone interview.

"With a player of this level of skill and talent," Boras said, "there's not really any comparables."

Rizzo said he hoped to have Harper come to Washington during the Nationals' next homestand, which begins next Monday, and that he wants the player to report to the franchise's rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in Florida "as soon as possible."

On Tuesday, the Nationals made room on their 40-man roster for Harper by moving right-handed pitcher Luis Atilano from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL.

Harper's contract calls for a signing bonus of $6.25 million in five equal payments of $1.25 million: 30 days after approval and each July 1 from 2011 through 2014. He receives salaries of $500,000 each in 2011 and 2012, $750,000 in 2013, $900,000 in 2014 and $1 million in 2015.

There are roster bonuses that could raise the total value of the deal to $10.9 million. Harper can earn up to an extra $500,000 in each of the last two years of the contract, getting $125,000 each year if he spends 30, 60, 90 and 120 days on the active major league roster.

The Nationals also agreed to pay for eight semesters of college.

"The truth is, with a full minute to go, Mike and I both thought we were not going to have a deal," Nationals president Stan Kasten said.

Asked what changed in that final minute, Rizzo replied: "It was both sides compromising and knowing that we were so close it would be fruitless not to get a deal done."

Harper was among 14 first-round selections who signed on the final day. Three first-round picks failed to sign, and the teams that chose them will get extra selections as compensation in the first round of next year's draft.

The Pirates signed the No. 2 overall pick, Houston high school right-hander Jameson Taillon, to a minor league contract Monday night. Taillon will receive a $6.5 million bonus.

[+] EnlargeBryce Harper
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBryce Harper signed the biggest deal for a position player out of the draft since Mark Teixeira's $9.5 million deal in 2001.

"This is highest we've invested in three years -- it will come in at around $12 million and $31 million the last three years," general manager Neal Huntington said.

Boras and Baltimore worked out a deal late for shortstop Manny Machado, selected third. An accord was reached 3 minutes before midnight, according to scouting director Joe Jordan.

"We reached out during the day to try and get some dialogue going and periodically went through it. But again, the meat of this thing happened in the last hour," Jordan said.

Machado received a $5.25 million bonus from Baltimore, falling short of the club record of $6 million bestowed on catcher Matt Wieters, the fifth overall pick in 2007.

Left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the No. 5 pick, agreed with Cleveland at $2.65 million.

The New York Mets reached a deal with another Boras client, pitcher Matt Harvey, picked seventh. Harvey received a $2,525,000 signing bonus.

Two first-round picks -- catcher Yasmani Grandal with Cincinnati (No. 12) and third baseman Zack Cox with St. Louis (No. 25) -- received $3.2 million, four-year contracts, while other first-round picks got minor league deals.

Kaleb Cowart signed for a $2.3 million bonus with the Los Angeles Angels. The infielder from Cook County High School in Adel, Ga., was taken with the 18th overall pick.

Gary Brown agreed with San Francisco on a $1.45 million bonus. The outfielder, selected with the 24th pick, had been one of four unsigned first-round choices represented by Boras.

Zach Lee, already enrolled at LSU on a football and baseball scholarship, spurned the Tigers to sign with the Dodgers. Colorado agreed with right fielder Kyle Parker, taken 26th, on a contract that allows him to quarterback Clemson this fall before reporting to spring training.

Three right-handed pitchers selected in the first round failed to sign: No. 6 Barret Loux with Arizona, No. 9 Karsten Whitson with San Diego and No. 14 Dylan Covey with Milwaukee.

The Arizona Republic says Loux, a right-hander from Texas A&M, agreed to a contract with Arizona but failed his physical exam last month over concerns about his shoulder and elbow. MLB then worked out a deal making Loux a free agent and giving the D-backs a compensation pick immediately after the No. 6 pick in next year's draft.

Also, the Brewers failed to reach an agreement with the 14th overall selection, right-hander Dylan Covey. Covey has been diagnosed with diabetes, and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin says that played a role in his decision not to sign.

"We were willing to sign, but he felt with the management needed and discipline involved with diabetes it was necessary to stay close to home," Melvin said. "This was all a sudden, unexpected, tough-luck happening."

Brewers scouting director Bruce Seid said Covey will attend the University of San Diego instead.

Seid said Covey and his family found out about his diagnosis only recently and were understandably overwhelmed.

"It was pretty devastating," Seid said. "No matter how much time you have, in this case, there's a lot of time needed to determine what's the best situation."

Covey's family did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press.

Earlier Monday evening, the Nationals announced they came to terms with second-round choice Sammy Solis, a left-handed pitcher from the University of San Diego, and fourth-round pick A.J. Cole, a right-handed high school pitcher.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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