Mak­ing a com­pelling case for the $400-mil­lion player

Agent says once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion ta­lent Bryce Harper is worth ev­ery penny

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - CHELSEA JANES

Scott Bo­ras has a bin­der for Bryce Harper, like he does for most of his top-dol­lar clients. It’s di­vided into a hand­ful of sec­tions and pop­u­lated with care­fully cu­rated Pow­er­Point slides, po­si­tioned just so. Ev­ery once in a while, as he flips through it, the agent re­al­izes a page might make his ar­gu­ment bet­ter if placed just be­fore this one, or just af­ter that one. So he un­locks the three rings, takes out a sheet, and moves it.

Bo­ras and his staff have trimmed the Harper bin­der from its orig­i­nal length of 100-plus pages. Ev­ery sec­ond of the sales pitch has to be per­fect. Ev­ery mo­ment of ev­ery meet­ing must ex­or­cise any lin­ger­ing doubts over Harper’s base­ball im­mor­tal­ity.

Even peren­nial all-stars don’t get record-break­ing deals, and Bo­ras does not want to break records with Harper’s con­tract. He wants to shat­ter them.

Base­ball has a long-stand­ing affin­ity for round num­bers, so $400 mil­lion al­ways seemed like the myth­i­cal tar­get price for which­ever star was good enough to lead the sport into its next salary fron­tier. Some ex­ec­u­tives scoff at the no­tion that Harper is the man to hit that num­ber, or that any­one is, at the mo­ment.

But Bo­ras would ar­gue that $400 mil­lion is not only a rea­son­able fig­ure for Harper, but even a con­ser­va­tive one.

Most of the pages of that bin­der don’t deal with the money. One sec­tion is ded­i­cated to Harper’s unique­ness, to demon­strat­ing that he is one of the most pro­lific young tal­ents this game has ever seen. The only ac­tive play­ers who had more homers by age 25 are Al­bert Pu­jols and Mike Trout.

The only other play­ers with six 20-homer sea­sons by age 25 are Alex Ro­driguez, Mike Trout, and Tony Conigliaro. In other words, if you buy Harper, you’re buy­ing 10 years or so of a Hall of Fame­cal­i­bre player, in his prime.

An­other sec­tion of the bin­der is ded­i­cated to his po­ten­tial, as de­fined by the re­mark­able num­bers he com­piled in 2015. If you buy Harper, not only are you get­ting one of the most tal­ented young play­ers of all time, but also a guy with the abil­ity to put up once-ina-life­time num­bers. How many other play­ers have com­piled an OPS of 1.109 for an en­tire sea­son? Only one in the last decade: Al­bert Pu­jols.

But those sec­tions ex­ist to sup­port a ba­sic fi­nan­cial ar­gu­ment: Harper, ac­cord­ing to Bo­ras, is worth more than any­one ever has been, far more, in fact. He is unique, and prece­dent hardly ap­plies to his free agent case.

Any agent can ma­nip­u­late statis­tics to sup­port their player’s cause. Any savvy gen­eral man­ager would counter with the statis­tics that make Harper seem more aver­age, like the fact that he owns just the 34th high­est FanGraphs Wins Above Re­place­ment in base­ball since 2016, one slot ahead of Trea Turner. Bo­ras has ar­gued many times that WAR isn’t a good statis­tic for Harper be­cause it doesn’t treat out­field­ers well, though out­fielder Trout leads in WAR in that span.

So how will Bo­ras get teams to bite?

First, he won’t go to those savvy GMs. He will sell to own­er­ship. An in­vest­ment this big, Bo­ras will ar­gue, is a fran­chise-wide in­vest­ment, an in­vest­ment in a brand, in in­creased mer­chan­dise sales and in no­to­ri­ety. An in­vest­ment this big could change the fu­ture of a fran­chise. He will try to con­vince own­ers, the only peo­ple who don’t have to con­vince GMs be­fore mak­ing an in­vest­ment like that.

Sec­ond, he will ar­gue that most base­ball peo­ple are look­ing at Harper’s free agency all wrong. Most base­ball pun­dits have tossed out Giancarlo Stan­ton’s 13-year, $325-mil­lion deal as the base­line for a Harper con­tract. Bo­ras would ar­gue that those pun­dits are miss­ing the point.

Stan­ton was sign­ing an ex­ten­sion. Harper is a free agent. The Mar­lins had years left of con­trol of Stan­ton, and could there­fore ma­nip­u­late his to­tal con­tract down from where it could have been. Harper has the right to max­i­mize his value, and ev­ery­one in the mar­ket can com­pete to help him do so.

So what, then, is the big­gest free agent deal in re­cent his­tory? Bo­ras doesn’t mea­sure by to­tal value, but by aver­age an­nual value. By that mea­sure, Zack Greinke’s six-year deal with the Di­a­mond­backs made him the high­est paid player in base­ball his­tory, with an aver­age an­nual value of $34 mil­lion. So if Greinke is the prece­dent, Harper should get at least $340 mil­lion over 10 years.

But Greinke isn’t the right prece­dent, Bo­ras will ar­gue. He’s a base­line. Harper plays ev­ery day. He pro­vides more value, more star power (and reg­u­lar power), draws more crowds and changes more games than Greinke. Start­ing pitch­ers gen­er­ally gar­ner the big deals be­cause of their scarcity, but would any­one ar­gue that Harper isn’t worth a few mil­lion dol­lars more an­nu­ally than Greinke? Say, four or five mil­lion more?

That ar­gu­ment brings Bo­ras to an aver­age an­nual value of $39 mil­lion or so, or $390 mil­lion over 10 years. Sud­denly, $400 mil­lion doesn’t feel so out of reach. Cre­ate the no­tion that a few teams are bid­ding at $39 mil­lion, or talk a team or two into think­ing Harper is worth six or seven mil­lion dol­lars more than Greinke an­nu­ally in­stead of four or five, and out comes a 10-year deal worth $400 mil­lion.

For that logic to hold, Bo­ras has in­cen­tive for Harper to sign be­fore Manny Machado, de­spite wide­spread in­dus­try spec­u­la­tion that Machado could be the first free agent domino to fall.

What if Machado signs a deal with less AAV than Greinke’s? Even a 10-year deal worth $310 mil­lion, a mil­lion a year more than what the Na­tion­als of­fered Harper in Septem­ber, would be the big­gest to­tal free agent deal in base­ball his­tory, but es­tab­lish an aver­age an­nual value for Machado of just $31 mil­lion. Is Bryce Harper worth $9 mil­lion a year more than Manny Machado? That ar­gu­ment might be more dif­fi­cult. Prece­dent mat­ters.

Bo­ras needs only one team to bite on his ar­gu­ment, to see rea­son to over­pay, or to buy into Harper as a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion ta­lent to make that $400-mil­lion fig­ure seem a lot more re­al­is­tic. The ques­tion, of course, is whether that team ex­ists and if it does, does Harper want to co­ex­ist with it?


Su­per agent Scott Bo­ras says out­fielder Bryce Harper has all the cre­den­tials to be base­ball’s first $400-mil­lion man.

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