WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper and the Nationals agreed to terms on a contract for the 2018 season on Saturday, buying out his final year of arbitration eligibility. Harper will earn $21.65 million in 2018 with a $1 million incentive if he wins the Most Valuable Player award, a source told MLB.com.
Harper, who is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season, will become the highest paid arbitration-eligible player in MLB history next season, surpassing David Price's $19.75 million from the Tigers in 2015. The previous most for a position player was Prince Fielder's $11.5 million in 2011.
The two sides began discussing a possible deal during this past offseason when negotiating his salary for the 2017 season. They initially tried to work out a two-year deal for '17 and '18, but eventually settled on a $13.625 million contract for this season. General manager Mike Rizzo keeps an ongoing dialogue with most players' agents, but especially Scott Boras, who represents Harper and nine other members on the current Nats roster.
The dialogue continued with Boras to eventually get this contract completed Saturday, even if the timing was a bit out of the ordinary.
"I think it shows the comfort level Bryce has with the organization and that we have with him," Rizzo said. "It does a lot of good things for us. It gives us cost-certainty going into the season next year, and next year's payroll. I think most important, there's a comfort level, a comfortable player that doesn't have to worry about discussing a contract next year."
The two sides have not discussed a potential extension past the 2018 season, according to Rizzo, who said they were focused on a contract to complete Harper's arbitration years first before any discussions about beyond that.
Harper said he was pretty involved with this process, exchanging text messages with Boras during the past few weeks as a deal drew closer. But Harper said Saturday he was not focused on anything beyond 2018.
"I think 2018 is a ways away," he said. "I'll let Scott and all those guys take care of that. Solidify what's going to happen now and for 2018 and the rest I'm not really worried about that right now."
Harper's pending free agency in 2018 is shaping up to be one of the biggest in baseball history.
He has already proven himself to be a once-in-a-generation talent, and he will be entering free agency at the age of 26. Harper is a former No.1 overall pick, a four-time All-Star, former National League Rookie of the Year and he was named the youngest unanimous MVP in history in 2015. His start to the 2017 season -- .372/.496/.717 with 10 home runs -- is currently smashing away any lingering concerns about his disappointing production from 2016.
So Harper is not getting cheaper. It has been speculated that he could command a 10-year, $400 million contract in free agency. Regardless, he almost certainly will past Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million contract from 2014 for the largest contract in baseball history.
Rizzo admitted that it was difficult to come up with a salary number in arbitration negotiations for Harper, considering there are so few comparable players historically. But by signing him to a record deal for 2018, the Nationals are hoping it could help foster good will with Harper during negotiations in the future.
"He's our own," Rizzo said. "Drafted, developed, signed, been an MVP for us. He's a very unique player. There's not many comps for his performance, both in the short-term and in the bulk throughout his career. So he's a unique player with a unique talent set that is our own.
"We love what he's done for us, and we couldn't be happier that we know where we're at in 2018."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.