Bryce Harper has every quality of a superstar. He has world-class talent, passion for the game, and let’s not forget, the hair to go along with it. He fits the bill as the face of baseball.
Now the question is, will he get paid like the face of baseball?
Harper has reportedly asked the Washington Nationals for a ten-year contract extension totaling $400 million.
After an unforgettable 2015 campaign in which Harper received National League MVP honors at the ripe age of twenty-two, he saw a decrease in production during the 2016 season. He had fewer extra-base hits, a significantly lower WAR, and a batting average that fell nearly ninety points.
Some have attributed his weak showing in 2016 to a laundry list of injuries that piled up over the course of the season. Since the middle of the season, there was speculation about potential shoulder issues, wrist issues, thumb issues, and even a combination of those injuries.
Which Bryce Harper will show up next season? If the MVP Harper, capable of fifty-plus home runs, shows up, Nationals fans will be clamoring for the front office to keep him. If the umpire-arguing, bat-snapping(?) Harper returns, some will be ready to call his MVP season a fluke and label him overrated.
Having just turned twenty-four in October, it appears Harper’s best years are yet to come. He’s already a four-time All-Star, an MVP winner, and has helped his team make three playoff appearances. With his style of play, it’s easy to see him rebounding from an off year.
Even if Harper picks it back up in 2017, he should not get a $400 million contract. Despite his limitless potential, and what he’s already shown on the field this early in his career, it’s not practical to pay him $40 million a season.
There’s been a recent trend regarding teams handing out expensive long-term deals to star players. Often times, a few years into the new contract, the player sees a drop in production. Big money tends to spell big trouble.
But that isn’t the reason Harper shouldn’t get $400 million. Most of the players who suffer after receiving the aforementioned contracts see a decline coincide with injury and age. Neither of those factors seem to be a concern for Harper. Around all the injury rumors, Harper showed his durability and played just under 150 games last season. Age certainly isn’t a worry for teams, as he will have just turned twenty-five by the end of next season.
It all goes back to the practicality of the situation. What team is going to pay him $40 million a season, have enough money to build a team around him, and stay under the luxury tax? There are only a few teams in baseball that are even capable of pulling the trigger for such a contract.
The Nationals are already writing Ryan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer fat checks for the next six and seven years respectively, not to mention the uniquely loaded contract that Stephen Strasburg agreed to in May. Washington is in no position to sign Harper on the terms that he is rumored to be requesting.
The Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, and Dodgers are four teams that may have deep enough pockets to pay Harper. These clubs are the perennial spenders and contenders that could, in theory, lure in a guy like Harper.
Even if one of those teams was to offer, it’s much more likely that Harper would receive a deal similar to that of Giancarlo Stanton. If he is indeed seeking a ten-year deal, then his contract would probably fall closer to the $350 million range. It would be surprising if his deal was worth less than Stanton’s, but that also depends on the length of the contract.
There aren’t many comparable free agent deals that put a definitive price range on Harper. At a time in the sport when contracts are increasing at a gross rate, it becomes difficult to judge value. Stanton’s deal with Miami was the first to break the $300 million barrier, mainly because of his potential and age, which are the exact reasons that Harper is asking for $400 million. In 2010, a young Troy Tulowitzki received a ten-year deal worth over $150 million. If a twenty-six year-old Tulowitzki was signing that contract today, just six years later, a $300 million contract may not be out of the question.
Bryce Harper hitting the free agent market will be one of the biggest events in baseball’s modern history. He is likely going to receive the richest contract in MLB history and one lucky fan base will get to see a decade of outfield assists, moonshot home runs, and a whole lot of this…