Washington Nationals sign Bryce Harper to $9.9 million contract

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 2:47 AM

Together, they followed the owners of the Washington Nationals into the conference room on the third floor inside Nationals Park, relaxed and smiling after tense and successful negotiations that landed them another piece of a promising future. Mike Rizzo, Stan Kasten, Kris Kline and Roy Clark - the four men most responsible for bringing Bryce Harper to Washington - sat at a long table and described to the assembled media how they had done it.

"There is one more thing I do have to do when we celebrate victories here," Kasten interrupted. He summoned a whipped-cream pie stashed in the corner and smashed it in Rizzo's face, splattering whipped cream all over Rizzo and the walls. Someone else pulled out the silver Elvis wig Nationals players used as a totem after their own victories.

"Why not go overboard?" Kasten bellowed.

The celebration doubled as a release following the final-seconds deal-making that landed the Nationals a power hitter they can pair with Stephen Strasburg. Less than one minute before Monday's midnight deadline, the Nationals agreed to a deal with Harper and super-agent Scott Boras for the second year in a row - a major league contract worth $9.9 million over five years, including a $6.25 million signing bonus, the richest draft deal ever signed by a position player.

The Nationals, for the second straight season, had drafted a slam-dunk first overall choice and signed a player with a mountain of hype behind him. In Harper, a 17-year-old outfielder and power-hitting prodigy, the Nationals could have an offensive answer to Strasburg, a generational talent reliant on sheer power who could become one of the forces that lifts the franchise to prominence.

The Nationals hope to never pick first overall again. But they know how lucky they are to have lost 205 games combined in two seasons that allowed them to pick Harper and Strasburg in consecutive drafts.

"It's never happened before," Rizzo said.

The saga of making Harper a National began June 7, when they drafted Harper out of the College of Southern Nevada. Rizzo initially hoped the Nationals could sign Harper soon; Kasten bet him $1 that would never happen. When talks did not progress immediately following the draft, the Rizzo realized the negotiation would linger until close to the deadline.

Monday night, the Nationals and Boras began building the framework of a deal by 11, early enough, they thought, to avoid a last-second showdown. "And yet," Kasten said, "there we found ourselves again."

"With a full minute to go, Mike and I both thought we were not going to have a deal," Kasten said. "Isn't that fair to say?"

"Yes," Rizzo said. "Very fair."

But the Nationals knew how badly they wanted Harper. Kline, in his first year as scouting director, had watched him play since Harper was 15. Harper reminded Clark of Jason Heyward, the uber-prospect he had scouted, drafted and signed as the scouting director for the Atlanta Braves. "Don't ask me which one I would take," Clark said.

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