Bryce Harper rumors: Nationals still hanging around in sweepstakes for free-agent slugger

Big-time free agent Bryce Harper is looking for a bank-breaking deal by all accounts and the market for him just isn't clear, not even here in January. We know his agent Scott Boras has a history of waiting out the market and even going past the front office and straight to owners in order to obtain major deals. One of the more famous occurrences was convincing Tigers owner Mike Ilitch to give Prince Fielder a monster deal that also pushed Miguel Cabrera across the diamond to third base. 

Might Boras sell the Nationals on retaining Harper with a bigger deal than the previously offered 10-year, $300 million one? I certainly would never have counted them out and now there's this, from the Washington Post

According to a person with direct knowledge of Harper's process, the 26-year-old and his agent, Scott Boras, met with Nationals owner Ted Lerner for five hours on the Saturday before Christmas. Asked to confirm that this meeting happened, multiple people with the club refused to do so, a departure from their relative openness about their status with Harper this winter. On the record and off it, club officials have been willing to discuss the Harper situation because it seemed relatively uncomplicated until now: They made their offer. They put forth a legitimate effort to sign him. And he didn't take it.

But ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Wednesday that Harper has met with Nationals representatives "many times" this winter, news he attributed to "club sources." Later in the day, club sources confirmed the meeting had taken place. Lerner, Harper and Boras did meet. The sides have had contact since the Winter Meetings.

Jon Heyman further reports that it was a "good" meeting. 

It's been such a weird winter regarding Harper compared to what we thought we might see. It seems like the Dodgers are in, but won't go nuts with a deal. The White Sox won't go more than seven years, per a report. The Cubs seem to be strapped for cash, relatively speaking. The Yankees are all over Manny Machado and not Harper. The Phillies seem interested in Harper, but more so in Machado. We've heard whispers about teams like the Giants, Cardinals and Braves, but not much more. 

The Nationals still hanging around, being the only team he's ever known and the other team that has reportedly made a formal offer seems like something important. Lerner meeting with Boras also seems pretty important, like Boras is looking to pull a Prince Fielder. 

The Nationals have several huge deals already on the books, but they've shown flexibility in the past with using deferred money, particularly on Max Scherzer, another Boras client. Boras also represents Stephen Strasburg, Trevor Rosenthal and Anthony Rendon. There's a good relationship already in place with this owner and front office. 

The longer this plays out and the more we hear about teams not being willing to do something in terms of years or dollars, the chances Harper returns to D.C. just seem to naturally increase. The Nats are really the only team we 100 percent know are in on him. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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