How much did Bryce Harper's disappointing 2016 season impact his future contract? Not at all, according to one American League general manager who spoke with ESPN's Eddie Matz anonymously about the Nationals star.
"Last year, he still had the classic walk rate, so you know things were happening positively for him, and you know there was something happening on the injury front," the executive said. "For two of the last three years, if he hasn’t been the best player in the National League, he’s certainly on the short list. He’s one of the best players in the world. He’s one of the youngest players in baseball, and he’s one of the most accomplished."
In May, Washington locked up Harper through the 2018 season with a one-year, $21.625 million deal. But after that, he'll be in position for a ridiculous pay day in free agency.
The same GM who dismissed Harper's 2016 struggles also predicted his next contract would exceed the $400-million mark.
“Four hundred million is light. It's going to be more than that. If you could sign him to a 15-year contract, you do it. I would say something in the range of $35 million a year, maybe closer to the high 30s. It could approach 40 million dollars a year.”
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The value of the deal depends heavily on whether Harper – who will be 26 when he becomes a free agent – would be willing to sign on for that many years.
Only one current player has a contract longer than 10 years: the Marlins signed Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million deal back in November of 2014.
The ridiculous projected price tag will make some MLB teams balk, and potentially take themselves out of contention for the 2015 NL MVP altogether.
Matz listed the Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals and Phillies as teams expected to make runs at Harper, but not the Cubs other than to say several unexpected suitors will inevitably join the bidding war.
Over the weekend, Peter Gammons reported that he's heard Harper is interested in joining the defending champs.
A different AL general manager said club owners will ask why they should pay Harper significantly more than the next highest-paid player.
“Some owners will bow out because they think becoming the highest-paid player should be sufficient,” the second GM said. “Having to go 10, 20, 30 percent above that is going to become increasingly challenging for people who are uber-successful businessmen.”
If these two general managers are correct, market value will decide Harper's contract, not return on investment through the length of the deal.
But so far, Harper's 2017 production makes him look like a good bet for years to come.
He's rebounded from last season's .234 batting average and 24 total home runs. Through 48 games, Harper is hitting .324 with 15 home runs and an OPS of 1.089.
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