The oddest of tea leaves fell on Saturday — news that Bryce Harper and the Nationals had agreed upon a $21.625 million contract for 2018, avoiding his final year of arbitration. I cannot recall another deal like this being struck in mid-May, and the curious timing raised the usual questions about Harper’s future with the Nats, and whether he will sign an extension before reaching free agency. My guess is no, that Harper is not going to concede the 2018-19 market to Manny Machado and others without fully exploring his value. One rival agent speculated that the Harper deal was the byproduct of a long-term discussion, and that the agreement simply amounted to a tabling of negotiations. But Harper, his agent, Scott Boras and the Nationals all denied that theory, saying their discussions were limited to the one-year contract for ’18. Whatever, no one should rule out the Nats coughing up $400 million, or whatever the number for Harper will be, given Boras’ relationship with the team’s ownership. As I’ve written before, Nats ownership operates to its own rhythm, with Boras frequently calling out the beats. Frequently. But not always. Harper’s 2018 contract is the largest one-year deal for an arbitration-eligible player, but the number might have been higher if the Nationals had not stared down Boras in a dispute at the start of his arbitration process. The dispute stemmed from the contract Harper signed as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. Harper and Boras contended that Harper had the right to opt out of his negotiated 2015 salary and enter arbitration. The Nats said they never included opt-out language in the deal.