Dan Campbell is looking at both the good and the bad with Bryce Harper, and he’s not entirely convinced Harper is worth what he thinks he is.
Ideal Contract: 8 years, $280M with opt out after year 3. Salaries of $35M, $38M, and $40M in the first three years with just over $33M a year in the remaining 5 years.
Most I would pay: 8-10 years, $310M with opt outs after years 3 and 5.
We do not know which Bryce Harper we are signing. Are we signing the 2015 MVP who posted a WAR in excess of 10? Are we signing the Harper who posted WAR figures of just over 1? The point is we have no clue. The phenom has seven major league seasons under his belt and his MVP year of 2015 looks more like the outlier than anything else.
What worries me about Harper is that his numbers are not that impressive over his career — especially when one takes into account that he was a part of a stacked Washington Nationals lineup during that time.
That said, this contract, unlike most free agent contracts, would be paying more for future performance than it would be past performance. We have had a glimpse at his ceiling — his 2015 year in which he had one of the best seasons of all time — and we know his floor, which is a barely above replacement level player who plays shoddy defense.
However, he fits the St. Louis Cardinals because he is a power hitter, he is a high on base guy, and he boasts the combination of hitting left handed and playing right field. He would immediately solve lineup construction problems and get Paul DeJong (who has no business batting third) out of the three-hole. Moreover, his star power and intensity are something this team needs (which is why this team should sign Josh Donaldson in addition to Bryce — yes they can afford both).
The guy just turned 26 years old in October. Bryce has suffered bad injuries to his hip, neck, knee (twice), thumb, and shoulder. He has only played more than 150 games twice in his career, only played 140 or more three times in seven seasons, and his injuries will only become greater and more intense as he ages.
Thus, I am very wary of the contracts that many in the media are talking about which exceed 10 years in length and $400M. Signing any player to that deal is absurd. Signing a player with Bryce’s track record to a contract like that is a dereliction of responsibility to your franchise and the team should not do it.
Any contract in excess of $350M is absolutely insane. No player should command that much of a team’s salary because there is a point of diminishing returns. The player can only produce so much value on the field in a given year, and when you can have 3 or 4 really good players instead of one (potentially) great player, then the decision becomes a no brainer to choose the 3 or 4 guys that won’t financially eviscerate your team building abilities for the next decade.
I like Bryce on an 8 year deal that pays him more money in the first three years, with an opt-out after his age 29 season. That will give him the “win” of having the highest AAV ever, and it will also allow the Cardinals to sign Donaldson, a reliever, all arbitration players, and still be under the luxury tax figure of $204M.