ESPN.com Insider Jim Bowden argues that the Washington Nationals will have to be willing to make Bryce Harper the highest-paid player in baseball history if they want to keep him from the clutches of the New York Yankees.
Although certainly he could end up elsewhere, Nationals beat writer Eddie Matz and Yankees beat writer Andrew Marchand make the case, respectively, for why Harper will stay in D.C. and why he'll wind up in the Bronx.
Matz: Harper's value in D.C. is monumental
As much as Harper makes sense in a Yankees uni, and as massive as his next contract will be, the Nationals have no choice but to try to keep him in D.C. For starters, he's the face of the franchise and the best player in baseball. Unless you're looking for a PR nightmare, you don't just let guys like that walk away, no matter how much they cost.
The question is, does Washington have the resources to keep the reigning MVP in town? As recently as 2013, when the Nats were in the middle of the payroll pack at $112 million, signing Harper long term seemed like a pipe dream. But in 2014, they finally cracked the top 10 with a $134 million payroll (ninth highest in MLB), and last season only the Dodgers and Yankees spent more than Washington's $174 million.
A healthy chunk of that went to Max Scherzer, whose seven-year, $210 million deal showed that the Nats aren't afraid to make it rain.
Looking ahead, they currently have just two players committed beyond the 2018 season (Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman), after which Harper becomes a free agent. So from an accounting perspective, it's certainly feasible that the Nationals have the wherewithal to keep Harper. Whether or not he wants to stay in D.C. is a completely different issue. Yes, he grew up a Yankees fan and that's just one of multiple reasons it's easy to envision him ending up in the Bronx. But it's worth noting that Harper hasn't exactly been the picture of health during his young major league career. He's a pedal-to-the-metal player who has been known to get dinged up, and that's something that agent Scott Boras has to be aware of. Prior to last year, Harper had never played more than 140 games in a season.
In related news, prior to last year, the notion that Harper's next contract could approach half a billion dollars would've been crazy talk. But after finally staying healthy and putting up monster numbers, Harper's value has skyrocketed. Whether it has peaked is up for debate, and a question that Boras has to be asking himself.
In other words, if the Nationals try to lock up Harper early -- which is probably their best bet -- and Harper decides to wait until free agency, there would be some big-time risk involved on the player's side. That, combined with the opportunity to be the rarest of today's superstars -- the kind that stays with one team from draft until retirement -- could be enough to keep Harper in Washington.
Marchand: Harper + 2019 = Yankees
Let's do a little math: The Yankees have Mark Teixeira's $23 million and Carlos Beltran's $15 million leaving the books after this season. The year after, they have CC Sabathia's $25 million and Alex Rodriguez's $21 million falling off the payroll.
That is a cool $84 million in available salary that will come due following the 2017 season.
By 2018, when Harper is a free agent, Hal Steinbrenner's piggy bank will likely be free of the luxury tax and ready to bestow Harper the first $400 million or $500 million contract. As we speak, Boras' minions are probably beginning to put together the leather-bound book.
My colleague Buster Olney made it clear in June that he thinks Harper will be a Yankee. Even though we are a long way out, it is hard to disagree, as the topics emerge again today with Jim Bowden's column.
Harper to the Yankees makes too much sense. There is a lot of negotiation and time between now and then, but the fact that Harper grew up a Yankees fan, his left-handed swing is made for the Bronx and he will be just 26 are pretty good reasons to fit him for pinstripes. Plus, as I pointed out, the Yankees should be financially set to make a humongous plunge.
Come on, it all seems to add up a little too well.
The Yankees are rebuilding as we speak. They are hoping to create a new Core Four. If they are able to accomplish that -- or, more realistically, a poor man's version of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte -- then Harper would have the added benefit of being the man trying to bring a championship back to the Bronx with a young nucleus.
If the Yankees don't win a World Series by 2018, it will be nearly a decade without a ring -- which in the Bronx, we all know, is an eternity.