St. Louis Cardinals: What is the right price for Bryce Harper?
Bryce Harper is certainly a great player, but is he so transcendent that he deserves a contract that will be seen as a milestone for years to come? Christian May-Suzuki argues that standard might be set in the next few years, but Harper might just be a stepping stone.
Ideal Contract: 10 years, $350M with year 4 and 8 opt-outs
Most I would pay: 12 years, $432M with year 6 and 9 opt-outs
For me, the question has to be asked whether or not Bryce Harper is good enough to set this groundbreaking trend that many people, including himself and Scott Boras, believe that he will start.
Don’t count me as one of those people, though. While Bryce Harper is a dynamic player with incredible marketability, there’s one player who is certainly more valuable than Harper, and his name is Mike Trout.
Trout signed his 6 year, $144.5M contract in 2014 at just 23, but the manner in which the contract is structured, there is a significant yearly value jump that started this season, which just so happened to also be his age 26 season.
Ideally, a team would not want to pay Harper more than Mike Trout. While Harper is a great prospect, his obscene -3.2 dWAR this season paired with some inconsistent seasons will certainly make teams cautious to pay him more than a guy who has had 9+ WAR in 5 seasons, over .935 OPS over the past 7 seasons, the defensive ability to record 19 DRS in the outfield, and the speed to steal 30+ bases per season.
Now there is an argument that predicted inflation and the estimated value of the new Trout contract that will come to be the true barrier breaker in 2021 should impact Harper’s predicted future value, and that Harper’s contract should be far higher than Trout’s previous one to compensate for this large, predicted jump and general inflation over such a long period of time.
Additionally, Harper’s marketability in comparison to Trout’s disinterest in it would also bump Harper’s number up, but there’s no real way to put a particular number on that, especially given some of Harper’s inconsistency.
But will teams be willing to pay a guy for double digit seasons at a per year rate that is $10M higher than the next highest guy? For a guy who isn’t even the best player in the league? For a guy with a single legitimate MVP caliber campaign? It seems unlikely.
On top of that, the fact that Trout’s contract was spiked so high to account for inflation at the same age as Bryce Harper is asking for his contract gives teams a decent frame of reference, and one I am sure they will be reluctant to move too far from.
The ideal contract number I put across takes all of that into consideration. At $35M AAV, the ideal contract would put him just ahead of Trout’s current contract and provides a decent balance in value for both teams.
On Harper’s side, Boras will certainly try to get more than this for his client, but the early opt-outs will allow him to regauge his own value if need be, while giving him the distinction of being the highest paid player.
For the St. Louis Cardinals, ten years at that price would be manageable for the team for years to come, and the additional opt-outs could in fact help the Cardinals in some circumstances.
If Harper truly wants to be the MLB’s first $400M man, and won’t settle for anything less, twelve years at $37M AAV is the highest I am willing to pay at this point in time for Harper. Getting more than $5M more than Trout, even at this pre-monumental deal, is simply too much for me to think that it’s worth it.
They always say that one player cannot be placed above the team, and this is true in most cases. The fear of inconsistency is just too much to totally break the bank for. I understand that there is no salary cap rule, but there is a cap that we don’t really have a number for: the amount that Bill DeWitt is willing to spend.
At the end of the day, the windows of guys like Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, and even Carlos Martinez are still wide open, so DeWitt draining all the finances that he’s willing to on one man seems a bit too much, even for me.
For a guy with the money making potential Harper has, it should be more than worth it to pay the big bucks. However, the contract that will truly blow everyone else’s out of the water will be Trout’s, and teams will nibble around the current highest AAV until then.