According to the latest reports, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington are all still in the running to sign Bryce Harper for the 2019 season - and the decade beyond. So where is he going to go? Insiders from across the NBC Sports family made their pitch:
How can the White Sox get Bryce Harper to sign up to play 81 (and ideally more) home games on the South Side for the next decade?
The White Sox might have the ability to offer a bigger contract than anyone, given the financial flexibility created by their rebuilding effort. They have almost no long-term financial commitments to speak of, and that means they can dedicate a big chunk of their future spending to an elite player like Harper or fellow mega free agent Manny Machado.
The question is whether they will or not.
Judging by their aggressiveness this offseason and the comments from general manager Rick Hahn, they sure seem willing to spend and to spend big. There's a historical component, too, as they once handed out the largest contract in baseball history when they signed Albert Belle way back in 1996. Of course, no contract they've given out since has surpassed the $68 million given to Jose Abreu.
But their pitch to Harper and Machado is one that features either of the 26-year-old superstars at the center of the final phase of this rebuild, one where highly rated prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal — respectively the Nos. 3, 19, 25, 44 and 49 prospects in baseball, per MLB Pipeline's rankings — arrive on the South Side and grow up around Harper or Machado, forming a contender for the better part of the next decade.
Hahn believes that's as attractive a pitch as any and that the bright future is the key to luring one of these guys to the South Side.
As any sports fan knows, however, money is often the ultimate factor. Fortunately for the White Sox, they have the ability to play in that arena. And with ESPN's Jeff Passan writing Wednesday that the White Sox (as well as the Phillies) are willing to guarantee Harper a 10-year deal, it seems they're in it to win it.
The other suitors certainly have their own selling points, ones the White Sox might not be able to trump. The Phillies seem ready to be equally attractive from a financial standpoint and have a bit of an edge in the recent-success department after making strides in their own rebuilding effort in 2018. Of course, the New York Yankees can point to their 100-win roster in conversations with Machado, and the Los Angeles Dodgers can show Harper their back-to-back NL pennants.
Plus, the glitzy media capitals of New York and Los Angeles offer opportunities all their own.
The White Sox present an intriguing package, but will it be intriguing enough for either of these All Stars?
Why Bryce Harper would be the perfect fit in Philly
It’s long been assumed that Bryce Harper will command $300 million in free agency — and it will probably take a lot more if the deal is for exactly 10 years.
In our ideal Phillies offseason plan a few weeks ago, I had them landing Harper at $360 million over nine years. He is a unique free agent worthy of both the years and the extremely high annual average salary.
The thing is, you’d figure opt-out clauses will play a role in Harper’s next contract, so it’s not quite as cut and dried as one sum over one length. Opt-outs after three and five years, for example, to allow Harper to cash in again while he’s still a superstar in his prime. This is the route Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, took with J.D. Martinez last offseason. Martinez has opt-outs after the second and third years of a five-year, $125M deal. Barring a catastrophic injury, it’s already looking like a smart move for Martinez to opt out and earn more.
Same scenario played out with Clayton Kershaw, who parlayed the structure of his contract into multiple paydays at opportune times.
Our Jim Salisbury reported Wednesday morning that the Phillies are planning a face to-face meeting with Harper. They aren’t going to wait around on Manny Machado’s decision, which is expected first anyway.
The Phillies have focused on Machado this offseason because he offers difference-making value offensively and defensively at third base, whereas Harper’s value is more one-sided. But from a pure offensive standpoint, Harper would be the better fit for the Phillies’ lineup and philosophical approach to attacking pitchers. Harper has as much power and as disciplined an eye as anyone in the majors. The Phillies covet the latter skill and need more of the former.
The case for staying in DC
Why would Bryce Harper return to Washington? A simpler way to address the idea may be to reverse the question. Why wouldn’t he?<
It fits. On multiple levels.
The Nationals win. His sponsor is an hour up the road. He grew from single and flamboyant to married and steady in the District. Members of ownership attended his wedding. The patriotic gear he donned during the Home Run Derby was not for a one-time show. It fits how he thinks, who he is. Harper has a cozy baseline in the nation’s capital. He also has a chance for expansion.
The Nationals have long thought they win all tiebreakers in this competition. Comfort, setting, treatment, they believe those are on their side after focused caretaking of Harper since he arrived as a rambunctious 19 year old. As the courting for his future services drags on, none of those things have changed.
However, the on-field team has improved. Want to make a pitch to Harper? Sign a third starter for $140 million. Point to Victor Robles and Juan Soto. Actually, Harper will save anyone else the time. He repeatedly mentioned the young Latin pair at the end of the season. He’s aware of the Nationals’ combination of positives: Willing spenders, already competitive, young talent circulating.
Here’s another thing: The hard part is over. Why is Harper so in demand? It largely has to do with his age. His best years should be ahead. His growing pains occurred in Washington, where he learned the plate and himself in the major leagues on the way to an MVP award and six All-Star appearances.
“Like every payer, we all have ups and downs, Bryce is no different, I’m no different,” Max Scherzer told me. “But to watch how the league still fears him and how he still has the eye to be able to swing at strikes, that’s an unbelievable trait for somebody to have and be this young. Sometimes, you have to step back and realize, ‘God, when I was 25 or 26, it was way different.’ I just know how much I continue to grow after the age of 25. That’s where when you watch him play you see how good he is already...”
Three large, gray statues line the home plate entrance at Nationals Park. They are wistful reminders of yesteryear: Walter Johnson, Frank Howard and Josh Gibson. They need a modern partner. If Harper signs a new deal in Washington, his path to joining that trio would be set in motion. The blend of personal opportunity, team opportunity, and legacy building is what prompts molds to be cast. Harper could have all of those in Washington if he ever felt the price was right.
-Todd Dybas, NBC Sports Washington
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