Fitting Bryce Harper in pinstripes,
Bryce Harper, a National League MVP at 23, is a free agent at 26, peddling his services in an industry that’s grown to nearly $11 billion in annual revenue.
His combination of skills, age and marketing cachet make Harper an excellent fit for any major league franchise. Particularly the Yankees. Harper, who has 184 home runs and a lifetime .900 OPS, rejected a 10-year, $300 million contract offer from the Nationals in September and is a good bet to set a new standard for the most lucrative contract in North American sports history.
A case for Harper and the Yankees joining forces:
On the field
When a generational talent with megawatt star power comes on the market in his prime, the Yankees lineup suddenly resembles a family dinner table at the holidays: There’s always room for one more.
The Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton nearly one year ago ostensibly closed the door on their long-anticipated pursuit of Harper. A power-hitting outfielder with a $325 million contract? Stanton filled that role on the payroll and at the plate, where he belted 38 home runs and posted a .852 OPS, a fine season as he adjusted to a new league and market.
Yet the Yankees season also illustrated how easily they could accommodate Harper.
Stanton served as the designated hitter for 86 games, and at 29, that’s likely his home for the majority of his remaining career. An injury to Aaron Judge even forced Stanton into right field for 72 games, and while the Yankees outfield has plenty of bodies, there’s not a lot of staying power.
Should they add Harper, the player likeliest to lose a starting job would be left fielder Brett Gardner, who re-signed for one year and $7.5 million. But at 35, coming off a season in which he batted .236 with a .322 OBP, Gardner probably profiles best as a fourth outfielder, anyway.
Center fielder Aaron Hicks is eligible for free agency after this season.
And Stanton might opt out of his contract after the 2020 season, though whether he can, at 31, top the seven years and $218 million remaining on his deal is debatable.
In the near term, the Yankees could bracket Hicks with Harper and Judge, with Stanton at DH. Longer term, the Yankees could conceivably play Clint Frazier in center field or shift Harper to first base.
These are trifling details, though, when you consider the thunder a Judge-Harper-Stanton grouping could produce at the plate.
Consider their career onbase and OPS: .398/.963, .388/ .900, .358/.905.
And consider that at 26, Harper and Judge will be entering their prime power-hitting years.
And finally, consider that Harper would be moving to Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch, a venue with the most generous home run rate for lefty hitters over the past five years.
The major league-record 267 home runs the Yankees hit in 2018 might just be a starting point.
Off the field
A Harper-Yankees pairinghas been so anticipated, it would almost feel cliché were it to occur.
From his love of Mickey Mantle, to his teenage tweets in support of CC Sabathia while under the Nationals’ employ, to the New York press corps nudging him at every opportunity, a decade of buildup has finally given way to go time.
Yet now that the moment everyone’s been waiting for has finally arrived, it almost feels counterintuitive to pair the two. It shouldn’t.
Harper as a Yankee would be an undeniably good outcome for almost every party: His significant national profile would expand, the Yankees would have yet another superstar to tout on a TV network they are expected to buy back, and Major League Baseball would have its most visible player on its most popular team.
It’s been far too long since the Yankees were branded the Evil Empire; pinching pennies last season to duck under baseball’s luxury tax ceiling saved them tens of millions of dollars in the long run.
Stealing Harper would cast he and they as public enemies again. That’s OK: Baseball is better when there are characters placed in specific roles.
And these Yankees would be a traveling road show many would come to see, if only to boo a freshly-shaved Harper.
Can they pull it off?
Do the Yankees have the money?
(Cue laugh track here.) Consider this: When the Yankees splurged on free agents Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett and won the 2009 World Series, their franchise was worth $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. The Yankees had estimated revenue of $441 million, and a player payroll of $200 million. MLB, meanwhile, was generating about $6 billion in annual revenue.
In 2018? The Yankees are worth about $4 billion, their annual revenue exceed $619 mil-
Bryce Harper rejected a Nationals’ 10-year, $300 million offer this fall.