“That’s always a possibility,” Harper said when asked about playing elsewhere next season, according to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, this could be possibly my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There’s no elephant in the room.”
Harper’s comments came during a media availability before Monday’s Home Run Derby in Washington, D.C., but were actually the second time he’d addressed his potential free agency on Monday. Earlier in the day, while giving a speech at a new youth baseball field in Northern Virginia that was being named after him, Harper reportedly told the crowd that he wanted to remain with the Nationals for the next 10 years.
Harper, 25, will be a free agent at the end of this season and is expected to become the highest paid player in baseball. Knowing his pending free agency would be a big story, Harper said during Spring Training that he would not address his contract situation during the season, making his comments Monday somewhat surprising.
“If you guys have any questions about 2019 or anything after 2018, call [agent] Scott [Boras] and he can answer for you guys. I’m not going to answer any questions,” Harper said in February. “If you guys do ask anything about that, I’ll be walking right out the door.”
Through his first six-and-a-half MLB seasons, all with the Nationals, Harper has consistently been one of the best hitters in baseball. Through 862 games he’s slashing .277/.384/.510 with 173 home runs and 475 RBIs. He also won the National League’s Rookie of the Year award in 2009 and MVP award in 2015.
He’s struggled for the first time in his career this season. Harper’s .214/.365/.468 slash-line are all below his career norms and he’s already struck out 102 times in 94 games.
It’s too early to know how Harper’s below-average numbers will affect his free agency. But based on his comments today, we’re not even sure he knows what the future holds beyond this season.