By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals agreed to a $13,625,000 contract for 2017, avoiding arbitration and more than doubling the slugging outfielder’s salary two years before he can become a free agent for the first time.
The Nationals also reached one-year deals with their three other arbitration-eligible players on Friday, the day players and teams were to exchange proposed salary figures ahead of hearings.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon will earn $5.8 million next season, right-hander Tanner Roark gets $4,315,000 and new catcher Derek Norris agreed to $4.2 million.
Harper was paid $5 million by the NL East champion Nationals last season, when he struggled with injuries and took a big step back after becoming the youngest unanimous MVP in baseball history in 2015.
He hit only .243 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs in 2016, significant drop-offs from the .330, 42 and 99 of a year earlier.
Still only 24, Harper is already a four-time All-Star and he was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2012. One of the top topics of discussion with regard to the Nationals — and all of Major League Baseball — moving forward will be whether the team will be able to sign Harper to a long-term deal. He can go into free agency, with the chance to sign with any club for hundreds of millions of dollars, after the 2018 season.
“With every player that you acquire, it’s a possibility that you may lose them in their specific time frame. With Bryce Harper and every other player that has a contract expiring, you better make plans,” Rizzo said last month, when asked about preparing for the chance that Harper could leave before the 2019 season. “And it’s not just Bryce Harper; it’s everybody on the roster.”
Rendon is coming off a bounce-back year in which he hit .270 with 20 homers and a career-high 85 RBIs while appearing in 156 games; injuries limited him to 80 in 2015. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Rendon is entrenched as Washington’s starting third baseman and made $2.8 million last season.
Roark was Washington’s second-best starter in 2016, behind NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, going 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA in 33 starts, returning to the rotation after spending a year working out of the bullpen. He earned a substantial raise after making just under $543,300 last season. Roark ranked fifth in the NL in wins, sixth in ERA and ninth in hits per nine innings.
As of now, Norris is penciled in as the starting catcher for the Nationals, who acquired him in an offseason trade with the San Diego Padres. Norris is coming off a terrible 2015 at the plate: He batted only .186 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs and a hard-to-believe .255 on-base percentage. He made $2,925,000 last season. Unless Washington goes out and adds another catcher, the 27-year-old would replace Wilson Ramos — who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent — as the team’s everyday guy behind the plate.