For the second straight year, the Nationals have gone down to the wire in signing the number one pick in the draft. Last year, they did not sign Stephen Strasburg until two minutes before the deadline. This year, Bryce Harper remains unsigned, and the deadline to do so is at midnight tonight.
However, the Nationals seem less concerned than they were last year. They are not as far apart on figures with Harper as they were with Strasburg, and they have a better relationship with Scott Boras, the agent for both Strasburg and Harper. Also, as Ben Goessling of MASN notes, Harper has less leverage than Strasburg did last year.
First, Harper took the unprecedented step of getting his GED and enrolling at a junior college to be draft-eligible a year earlier than he otherwise would have been. Why do all that just to give back the extra year and go back to school, especially when you could slip in next year's draft over signability concerns?
There's also the matter of a new collective bargaining agreement, which is expected to bring widespread changes to the First-Year Player Draft by 2012, including a bonus slotting system less favorable to top-end players like Harper. It's unlikely that will curtail spending on the 2011 draft, but there's a chance teams will be less interested in paying big money for their picks next year if it means giving up some rhetorical leverage in CBA negotiations.
Also, Strasburg himself has weighed in on Harper, saying, quite bluntly, that the team doesn't want him if he doesn't sign.
"I don't have any advice for him," Strasburg said. "It's his decision. If he wants to play here, he's going to play here. He doesn't need advice from anyone to confirm his views. If he doesn't want to play here, then we don't want him here. That's the bottom line."
So clearly, Harper doesn't have much ground to stand on if the Nationals play hardball. That said, as long as Harper is unsigned, there exists the possibility that something won't get done prior to midnight.