Let’s face it, Bryce Harper would look great in Yankee pinstripes. Likely, 29 other teams would agree Harper would make a franchise altering addition but very few will have the money, the sentimental value, or the perfect payroll storm to sign him.
Despite Harper’s Free Agency not being available until the end of the 2018 season, it’s already become a hot topic whether or not the Nationals will sign Harper long-term or the Yankees will acquire him to play where many feel is his “rightful” home.
It’s no secret Bryce Harper grew up a Yankees’ fan and has dreamed of playing for the team, we’ve all known as much since he admitted it as a 16-year-old already appearing in a Sports Illustrated article. Now, the 23-year-old is closing in on the opportunity and it coincides with a Yankees’ franchise clearing payroll in time to potentially sign him.
The union makes sense for a lot of reasons. Harper is very likely to approach or exceed a $400 million dollar contract if he remains the player he was in 2015. At 22, Harper became the generational talent waited on, hitting .330/.460 with 42 home runs, a 1.109 OPS and generating a staggering 9.9 WAR in one year. Of active players, only Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez have had as successful as a season. Bryce Harper at 22 was essentially Barry Bonds in his prime (the actual one).
So suffice it to say stringing together two or three 10 WAR seasons would set a trajectory of first ballot status for Harper, leaving him as someone turning 26 and very likely to sign for at least 10 years and by then, potentially close to 40 million per season. The frightening thing is even if Aaron Judge pans out and Jacoby Ellsbury stays long-term, the Yankees will have an outfield spot open up when Brett Gardner, also becomes a free agent after the 2018 campaign.
As of right now, New York has just $56 million committed to payroll in 2019 with $13 million of that set to expire at the end of that year. Of course, with much of its pitching staff and third base running into expiring contracts between now and then with no clear replacement identified, we expect the Yankees to have money, but not $120 million per year kind of money, available to spend.
So the money will be there, the position will be there, and Harper, for his part, would be moving into one of the most lefty-friendly parks in the game, a place where he can head into his prime as a perennial 50+ HR threat capable of hitting well over .300 and getting on base more than 45% of the time. He can man a center field and become the next Mickey Mantle.
It’s fair to say if injuries weren’t a factor and we could just chalk Harper up for slight improvements from his launching pad 2015 season, he could be the greatest free agent signing in Yankees’ history and still be a free agent far earlier than Alex Rodriguez will at the end of his deal.
But the Yankees shouldn’t do it.
Bryce Harper is going to be a cornerstone player for a team long-term. If he stays healthy, he will be fantastic, we know this. But committing 35-40 million per season to one player is a proven losing strategy in almost every single comparable example since free agency started. Harper plays an aggressive style on the bases and in the field, he’s already been banged up at a young age. He may be productive through age 36 or so but he may also miss long stretches of time with injuries. While you can say that about any player, Harper’s style increases those odds, same as it did with Mantle.
When Alex Rodriguez opted out following the 2007 season, it was my distinct belief New York should have let him walk. At the time I wanted Chone Figgins and a couple of other players for the $27 million per year it would cost to replace him.
My individual plan turned out to be idiotic, and the Yankees won a World Series two years later with A-Rod as the star but they were different circumstances. And while that deal looked great in its first 3-5 years, it’s been nothing short of a historical disaster for the entire second half of the deal. The Yankees shouldn’t be and are no longer in the business of spending $300 million on one player so they can walk away with one title. That is very realistically going to be the reality with A-Rod’s contract and it’s not a lesson Hal Steinbrenner is soon to forget when he remembers his brother negotiating that deal before his control was taken away.
When making a trade, the goal is not to trade a dime for two nickels, but in the world of payroll you want as many players in their prime at as many positions as possible at the same time. There’s a lot to sift through with this team in the next three years, but as of right now, committing 20% of the payroll to one player works with a fully effective farm system and good, young, pitching talent does not make sense.
If the Yankees accomplish both, maybe Harper is an option.
But this is the Bronx and the wounds of the last no-brainer generational talent to sign in New York have not healed and will only be off the conscience of the front office the year before the situation presents itself again.
Next time around, the Yankees would be wise to pass.