Pretend you’re a Major League pitcher.
Hey, congrats! You’re freakishly talented, one of the precious few people on the planet with the capacity to throw a baseball 95 miles per hour with any accuracy. But I have some bad news: You’re warming up to pitch at Yankee Stadium, your team went quietly in the top of the first, and there’s a giant man named Aaron Judge somehow batting leadoff.
Look at the outfield wall: It seems impossibly close. Now look to the on-deck circle. Oh, for goodness’ sake, it’s Bryce Harper. Oh, and Giancarlo Stanton is standing on the top step with a batting helmet on, holding a bat, realizing all your nightmares.
Like Manny Machado, Harper remains unsigned as MLB front offices lean on the sport’s luxury-tax threshold to avoid big expenditures. Unlike Manny Machado, Harper has been seen as an inevitable Yankee since before he even reached the Majors. He grew up a fan of the team, and he has never shied from the spotlight.
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Earlier this offseason, Yankees GM Brian Cashman referred to his club as “a fully operational Death Star” after payroll ducked below the luxury-tax threshold in 2018. Most took that to mean the Yanks would be chasing one of — or both of — Harper and Machado, but instead it’s February and we’re resigned to hoping video-game launches bring us big news.
The presence of Judge and Stanton — both corner outfielders — definitely complicates the Yanks’ potential pursuit of Harper, but they’ve got a DH spot to play with and Harper can sort of play center in a pinch. It’s hard to remember now, but Harper was a catcher in high school, and it seems likely he could turn himself into a plus defender at first base with a little practice. They can find room on the field for Bryce Harper.
And there’s room in the payroll, too, even if they’re clinging to the pretense that they can’t blow past the luxury-tax limit every year. Signing Harper would put them way over the mark this year, but they could probably get back under as soon as 2020 with a little creativity. Also, they’re the Yankees. The Yankees spent more than twice the league’s median payroll for twelve straight seasons from 2003-2014. The Yankees can always afford it, no matter what they say.
Harper is reportedly meeting with teams like the Giants and Padres — clubs at the outset of or still very much in the middle of rebuilding phases. The Yankees are built to win now and for the foreseeable future.
And it so happens that their rival Red Sox just won 108 games and steamrolled through the postseason for a World Series win. They have responded, to date, by adding James Paxton, Troy Tulowitzki, D.J. LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino. Those are all fine players, but none of them is Bryce Harper.
Despite the utter lack of rumor connecting Harper to the Yanks, it will still feel inevitable to me until he signs elsewhere. Let’s say, I don’t know, 10 years and $350 million with a bunch of opt-outs and some escalators and milestone bonuses that could push the total value over $400 million.
Oh, and when it happens, they should totally bat Judge leadoff, Harper second and Stanton third, just for the sake of scaring the bejeezus out of every opposing starter.