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 EDT Monday night – 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.
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 wood bats. He skipped his final two years of high school and got his GED, making him eligible for the 2010 amateur draft.
He already has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, touted as "baseball's chosen one" and "the most exciting prodigy since LeBron." 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."
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.
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 time 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."
Boras, who also represented three other 2010 first-round picks who agreed to contracts late Monday, explained the process this way: "Truthfully, you don't get a meeting of the minds until the deadline. … Players, families, owners, general managers and attorneys all have to meld this together."
While Kasten and Rizzo met with reporters in a conference room at Nationals Park to discuss Harper's signing, Kasten paused at one point and said, "There is one more thing I do have to do when we celebrate victories here."
And with that, Kasten smacked Rizzo in the face with a whipped-cream pie.
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