Bryce Harper is going to be a part of the potentially monster 2018 free agent class, and he’s likely going to get the biggest deal of any player on the market.
In fact, he’s likely going to get the biggest deal of all time. Jon Heyman at FanRag quotes an anonymous MLB executive willing to speculate:
One rival GM pegged Bryce Harper’s value on a long-term deal at “closer to $500 million than $400 million,” a seemingly stark admission for a management person, even if it isn’t a Nationals person.
That executive, claiming Harper is “twice the player that Giancarlo Stanton is,” suggested $400 million is the absolute baseline for a Harper deal. That would be a record, as Stanton is the current record holder at $325 million.
While at first it sounds like hyperbole, there’s an argument to be made that Harper really is twice the player Stanton is, although any direct comparisons between the two contracts are difficult to draw, as Stanton’s included plenty of deferred money and a few special, Loria-driven oddities. (That Stanton contract wasn’t much different than the 2007 A-Rod deal, when adjusted for inflation.)
It’s also important to remember that Bryce Harper is probably going to be paid less than he deserves, by any metric that attempts to calculate on-field value to salary. If you want to go by WAR, with a reasonable valuation of $8 million per Win Above Replacement, Bryce Harper, should he put up more 7-10 WAR seasons, would be worth anywhere from $56 to $80 million per season. And as that measurement wouldn’t be static, it’s reasonable to assume he’d be even more valuable over the life of the deal, especially since he’ll be hitting free agency at such a young age.
Plus, though this debate is going to be framed as “What’s Bryce Harper worth on the open market?”, it’s important to remember that it’s not actually an open market. It’s an artificial market, and it’s possible that the bidding war Harper and his agent (Scott Boras, of course) want might not emerge to the astronomical levels predicted.
But, the other side of that coin is that baseball has worked very hard in recent years to minimize the amount of money that can be spent on players outside of major league free agency. There are now hard limits on draft picks. There’s a hard cap on international spending. And of course, there’s the salary structure for MLB players early in their careers. And through it all, team revenues are rising and rising, thanks to television money and plenty more.
And yet each offseason, some free agents languish, unable to find a deal because smarter front offices don’t want to spend resources on aging players, even if they can’t spend the money on other things. The next round of CBA negotiations could be interesting, because as things are currently trending, there’s no way the players are receiving a fair share of baseball revenue. Should Bryce Harper not land a megadeal, it’s the surest sign yet that something is in need of fixing.
Plus, he’s just really freaking good, and deserves to be paid.