Bryce Harper. The name has hovered over the game of baseball like a sunset-pierced cloud since the day the precocious former catcher was photographed as an eight or nine-year-old with fellow baseball phenom Joey Gallo on the most unfair little league team in baseball history (see below).
In the years that followed this old school shot, Harper did little to squash the widespread rumors that baseball’s next great hitter was on his way to the top. He won a youth homerun derby in Cooperstown in 2004 at age 11, won a minor league homerun derby at only 16 years old, and crushed a 502-foot homerun at the 2009 Power Showcase at Tropicana Field to cement his reputation. Dare we forget his smashing pose on the cover of Sports Illustrated as, you guessed it, a 16-year-old.
And to say MLB teams have spent a fortune this free agency period could be a hilarious joke come 2016. As NBC Sports’ Joe Posnanski writes (and ESPN covers first), Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper becomes a free agent after the 2018 season and could “be in line for a $500 million contract…”
Harper becomes a free agent after the 2018 season, which will be just after he turns 26 years old. That could not be better for him. Most studies show that the 26-27-28 years are the typical peak for players with a slow decline until 31 or 32 when the decline speeds up considerably.
That means the team that signs Harper — assuming he’s healthy and has put up similar years to his 2015 season — can bet heavily on five to seven great years, and perhaps two or three more good ones, if he can stay strong until his mid-30s.
Remember the Fangraphs number for his value in 2015? Of course, inflation drives up value — but even if you multiply $75.9 million by five, you come up with $380 million. Let’s say he’s half as good for another three years. That’s another $113 million. We’re already almost at $500 million.
Of course, baseball teams don’t go by Fangraphs numbers. They might not believe that Harper was really worth $76 million in 2015. But they know he was worth a whole lot. Baseball teams have calculations they don’t share with the rest of us.
According to ESPN’s coverage, “That FanGraphs number Posnanski cites is Harper’s estimated value earned in 2015, based on his 9.5 WAR and the going rate of teams spending about $8 million per WAR on the free-agent market.”
But baseball fans and financial analysts everywhere might wonder – is Bryce Harper worth it?
Well, let’s see..
He’ll be 26 years old in 2018, his agent is Scott Boras, and he’ll likely get a 10-year gig. That’s enough right there to guarantee high three figures for the 23-year-old phenom. But working even more in Harper’s favor is the fact that Zack Greinke just got $34.4 million per year and he’s a pitcher in his 30s who plays once every five days. The biggest total contract thus far lies with Giancarlo Stanton, the $325 million man – a man who’s also not had any season close to what Bryce Harper just had in his National League MVP season (153 games, .330 average, 42 home runs and a 1.109 OPS).
If for some reason a high-spending team probably named the New York Yankees needs any more proof that Bryce Harper is the man you want smashing balls and chasing down warning tracks, here’s a hall of fame rendition of “My Girl.”
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) December 13, 2015
But amid all the hoopla of Bryce making $500 million big ones will be a weeping Mike Trout, sitting in a California corner somewhere wondering why he’s vastly underpaid. Oh, professional sports, how we love you.
Before we say goodbye to $500 million from one team, let’s revisit Bryce winning that youth homerun derby in Cooperstown. Innocence has since been tarnished by success, brutal, ball-destroying brilliance.