Fit­ting Bryce Harper in pinstripes,

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Gabe Lac­ques

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 fit 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 offer 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 field

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 outfielder with a $325 mil­lion con­tract? Stan­ton filled that role on the pay­roll and at the plate, where he belted 38 home runs and posted a .852 OPS, a fine 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 field for 72 games, and while the Yan­kees outfield 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 fielder 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 profiles best as a fourth outfielder, any­way.

Cen­ter fielder 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 field or shift Harper to first base.

These are trifling 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 finally, con­sider that Harper would be mov­ing to Yan­kee Sta­dium’s short right-field porch, a venue with the most gen­er­ous home run rate for lefty hit­ters over the past five years.

The ma­jor league-record 267 home runs the Yan­kees hit in 2018 might just be a start­ing point.

Off the field

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 finally given way to go time.

Yet now that the mo­ment ev­ery­one’s been wait­ing for has finally 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 sig­nificant na­tional profile 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 specific 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.

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