Nobody expected Bryce Harper – a 26-year-old, generational superstar who can singlehandedly change an MLB offense – to come cheaply in free agency.
Indeed, when Bruce Levine tonight drops a starting figure that would break records, my eyes didn’t even pop: “The Cubs will now have the chance to make an aggressiveness pursuit of Harper to create an elite lineup. The bidding for him in free agency will start at 10 years and $350 million.”
Based on the language there, I tend to think Levine is doing more than just surmising, but, even if he were, that sounds about right for your starting bids. Why? Because tip-top contracts tend to break the records set by previous tip-top contracts, and, in this case, the current record deal – also by a mashing outfielder in his mid-20s – was set by Giancarlo Stanton, who was extended by the Marlins four years ago on a monster 13-year, $325 million contract.
Harper’s deal would seek to break that total value anyway, but since Stanton’s contract was an extension, that’s all the more probable in free agency. And when you factor in a higher AAV for Harper being a free agent (and arguably more valuable now than Stanton was at that time), I’d say that sounds about right for an initial ask.
That $250 million +++ range was always going to be the level needed to get a seat at the table in this market for a guy of this talent and at this age (all of this more or less goes ditto for Manny Machado, though I still suspect Harper winds up with the more lucrative contract of the two). That’s especially true given the emergence of the Dodgers and Yankees from luxury-tax slumber, and the Phillies and Giants among the other big-market teams ready to spend big. With the weight of their mighty collective spending pushing contracts around the league northward, I think there’s little reason to believe Harper would not be totally justified in seeking bids in that 10-year, $350 million range and seeing who bites.
For the Cubs, actually signing Harper will require a new commitment to exceeding the luxury tax in the near-term, at least, which is something for which there have been signs they will be willing to do. Revenues continue to skyrocket for the Cubs, who are under a savvy ownership group that has already indicated a willingness to put those revenues, after costs, right back into the organization. With a new TV deal on tap next year and also certain ownership spending restrictions potentially coming to an end at the same time, it would be borderline expected for the Cubs to consistently stick in that top tier of spending for the next several years.
If the Cubs are seriously going to pursue Harper – and I believe they are – then luxury-tax splitting payrolls are going to be necessary. So, blanching at a 10-year, $350 million request from Harper would not be a reasonable first reaction. No one should be surprised by this initial figure, and I really doubt the Cubs would be. That’s not *quite* the same thing as saying the Cubs should pay whatever it takes to sign Harper (or Machado), mind you – I’ll always understand an organization trying to get the best deal it can. I’m just saying: this figure is very much what I was expecting to see here in late October.
In the coming weeks, we’ll find out whether there are teams – Cubs included – that believe it’s actually a reasonable figure for Harper’s services, or whether they want to wait things out for a while to see if there isn’t going to be a suitor at that record-breaking level.
Just don’t ask Harper if he’s really worth that amount of money – he might drop a “clown question” on you.