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Here’s how the New York Yankees can sign Bryce Harper this offseason, in three easy steps:
- Step 1: Pay the man.
- Step 2: Lean back and say, “Welp, that was easy.”
- Step 3: Whistle contentedly while imagining him alongside Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
But if this sounds too simple, that’s because it is.
About the only certainty with Harper’s free agency at this point is that it will indeed happen. The 2015 National League MVP is in his final season under the Washington Nationals’ control, and Jon Heyman of FRS Baseball reported on June 7 that the two sides aren’t talking about a new contract.
In the meantime, it’s a safe guess that paying Harper will be no small task.
The 25-year-old right fielder will at least have youth on his side when he enters the open market. If he stays on his current pace, he’s also going to be fresh off leading the NL in home runs (19) and walks (48). Currently at .899, he also has more than a fair chance at a career OPS over .900.
According to Heyman, Harper’s asking price (via agent Scott Boars) could be between $350 million and $500 million. Even the low end of that range would shatter Stanton’s $325 million contract as the largest ever in professional sports.
Beyond all this, whether Harper and the Yankees are even a good fit has become a fair question.
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Harper is about to make his second visit ever to Yankee Stadium this week. In years past, the occasion would have been an excuse to play up his affinity for Yankees legend Mickey Mantle and, allegedly, for the Yankees in general. Then would come the conjecture: Surely, he was destined for pinstripes.
But far from a given that he wants to be a Yankee. He’s given strong hints that he wants to team up with old friend Kris Bryant on the Chicago Cubs. He’s also been speculated as a fit for the deep-pocketed Philadelphia Phillies or the deeper-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers.
Or, he could in Washington.
“They like him, and he appears to like it there,” one general manager told Heyman.
For their part, seemingly the last thing the Yankees need is another slugging right fielder.
Right field was an area of need as recently as 2016, but then Judge slammed 52 home runs en route to the American League Rookie of the Year in 2017. The Yankees then surprised everyone by bagging Stanton, a fellow right fielder coming off a 59-homer campaign that won him the NL MVP, in a December 2017 deal with the Miami Marlins.
In taking on Stanton, the Yankees also agreed to pay the majority of his remaining contract. Specifically, $265 of the $295 million he was still owed at the time of the trade.
So practically and financially, there isn’t a great, big, Harper-shaped hole in New York anymore.
But as they say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The Yankees are the Bronx Bombers now more than ever. They reached for Stanton even after Judge led the team to an MLB-high 241 home runs in 2017. With Judge (18 homers) and Stanton (15 homers) now co-leading the charge in 2018, the Yankees are on pace for a record 269 long balls.
If they were to move on Harper this winter, the idea would be to turn the most powerful team in MLB history into an even more powerful team. Unnecessary? Perhaps. But a bad idea? Certainly not.
To make it happen, priority No. 1 is not disrupting the financial flexibility the Yankees are striving for.
A good chunk of that is set to come from resetting their luxury-tax penalties from 50 percent down to 20 percent. The Yankees have about $16.5 million in wiggle room below the $197 million threshold for the rest of the season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. If they’re not careful, trades for high-priced players (e.g., Cole Hamels) will compromise that.
If the Yankees do achieve their goal of resetting tax penalties, there may be no limit to what they’re willing to spend on future payrolls and, thus, on a contract for Harper. And even if they want to stay under the tax threshold, signing him may still be doable.
The threshold is set to increase to $206 million in 2019. Between their current commitments and their likely arbitration costs, the Yankees should enter the winter with something like a $150 or $160 million projected tax hit for 2019. Assuming the bidding doesn’t get too outrageous, that would leave enough room for the Yankees to make Harper a competitive offer.
Then it may just be a matter of convincing him that he belongs in pinstripes.
At the least, this will involve declining left fielder Brett Gardner’s $12.5 million option for 2019 so Harper, Judge and Stanton could rotate between right field, left field and designated hitter. Harper and Judge could also moonlight in center field as needed.
From there, the Yankees could sell Harper on Yankee Stadium. That could be as simple as showing him how all the non-homer fly balls and line drives he’s hit at Nationals Park over the years would have fared in New York:
Image courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com.
The conclusion is obvious, but it’s worth putting in writing anyway: Harper and his left-handed pull power are a perfect match for Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch.
Lastly, the Yankees would only have to sell Harper on the city and the team.
The former, of course, is the biggest media market in the world and the biggest possible stage for a baseball player. Although Harper has taken on a more inconspicuous persona this year, he’s spent much of his career as a star worthy of and seemingly longing for such a huge spotlight.
As for the latter, well, the Yankees came within a win of a chance to play for the franchise’s 28th World Series championship in 2017. With MLB’s best winning percentage in their grasp this season, they’re well on their way to finishing that unfinished business.
Ultimately, there may not be much the Yankees can’t offer Harper. All they have to do is not fumble any of their selling points.
And, oh yeah, decide once and for all that they want him.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.