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Bryce Harper doesn’t understand why so many great free agents haven’t been signed

Bryce Harper doesn’t get why so many quality players remain free agents. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Like many, Harper doesn’t understand why so many quality players — more than ever before at this stage of the cycle — remain unemployed. Theories abound. Most center on the idea that most, if not all, teams employ intelligent front offices that are using similar, if not the same, data to evaluate players. Collusion has been hinted at. Another theory offered is that teams, especially those in big markets, are saving up and wanted to get below the competitive balance tax threshold to splurge on next winter’s loaded free agent class, the one Harper will headline.

Whatever it is, Harper, who is widely expected to sign the richest contract in professional sports history next winter at age 26, believes teams are doing it wrong.

“For me, if I’m an organization or a team, I want the best players on my team,” Harper said. “My fans deserve that. The players deserve that. There’s a guy like Jake Arrieta out there right now. I’d put him on my staff any day of the week. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game, one of the best playoff pitchers in the game. You saw what he did last year, the year before.”

Bryce Harper really doesn’t want to talk about his free agency

Harper went on to specify outfielder J.D. Martinez, who reportedly agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract with the Red Sox about an hour later. He also mentioned Adam Lind. The former Nationals backup first baseman is still on the market after batting .303 with an .875 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 14 home runs in 116 games on a $1 million salary last season.

Coincidentally, the Nationals have some uncertainty for the fifth spot in their rotation, and Arrieta, a Scott Boras client, has been connected to the Nationals in the rumor mill since November. The Nationals have pounced on upgrades late in free agency when prices have dropped before, but signing Arrieta would come with stiff penalties because he declined a qualifying offer and the Nationals are already over the competitive balance tax threshold for the second straight season.

Arrieta, like a few others, will end up somewhere. That they’re still free agents boggles Harper’s mind.

“I’m not sure what people are thinking or anything like that,” Harper said. “But if I’m a fan base or a team and you’re trying to lose ballgames to get the No. 1 pick, I’ll take a frickin’ Jayson Werth over a first-round pick any day of the week.”

DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY: 38

Read more on the Nationals:

Nationals sign veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to one-year deal

Boswell: The Nationals long have been patient. It might be time to get angry.

Bryan Harper, Bryce’s older brother, out to make a name for himself with Nationals

The Nationals’ new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist is getting to know his very good staff

Sean Doolittle, the Nationals’ undisputed closer, hopes to lean more heavily on his slider

Right fielder for the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper, shared his thoughts on the upcoming Major League Baseball season in Feb. 2018. (Video: Jorge Castillo/The Washington Post)
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