Bryce Harper: Once in a Lifetime Free Agent

Updated: Jan 13, 2019


A 26-year old former MVP and six-time all-star that has a career .279 batting average, 184 home runs and is coming off a season where he walked 130 times, is on the market.


His name is Bryce Harper and he is the most high-profile free agent since Alex Rodriguez.

Harper burst on to the scene in 2012 as a 19-year old phenom. The ceiling was astronomical for the rookie and some even envision him as the home run king when his career reaches its end. Surpassing Barry Bonds record of 762 home runs will be virtually impossible but Harper could break another record.


Prior to the 2018 season, an anonymous general manager predicted Harper's next contract would reach $400 million.


“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.”


In March of 2018, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell declared the speculation of a $400 million contract dead. The reasoning for Boswell's statement was the "MLB’s collapsing free agent salary structure." If Boswell is right, Harper and the rest of the MLB's free agents could be in for a let down this off-season.


Even with Major League Baseball's declining free agent salary structure, Harper could still break the 13-year $325 million contract set by Giancarlo Stanton in 2015.


When Stanton received his record-breaking contract, he had yet to win an MVP and had been named an all-star twice. Harper already possesses baseball's most valuable award and four more all-star game appearances. Harper has also hit over .300 twice while Stanton has not hit above .290.


While Stanton's notoriety comes from the long ball, Harper's stems from the massive potential of the young star yet to reach his prime. A player with a career-high .330 batting average, 42 home runs and 100 runs batted in has yet to reach his prime. Harper's future stats could be gargantuan and to some unfathomable.


Will a team take a risk and pay Harper $400 million and who will be the team to do it?

The Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs lead the remaining six teams chasing Harper's talents with the highest odds to land the superstar.



The Phillies seem willing to pay the most for Harper and have been the most aggressive thus far. Philadelphia currently has the 11th lowest payroll in the MLB and with no salary cap in place, the Phillies could give Harper the $400 million he has been seeking.


When it comes to the Cubs, they have two things on their side-a young core with a winning culture and Kris Bryant. Harper's playoffs history is depressing considering his subpar stats but also because he never reached the NLCS despite winning the National League East four times.


Chicago has made the playoffs the last four season including the magical 2016 championship run. Chicago gives Harper what he has never had, the likelihood of a deep playoff run. Joining Chicago would also reunite Harper with childhood rival and friend, Kris Bryant.


An MVP himself, Bryant and Harper played Little League together at the age of eight while growing up in Las Vegas. A friendship lasting almost 20 years could bring familiarity for Harper in Chicago.

Bryce Harper & Cubs' slugger Kris Bryant (via ESPN.com)

Familiarity for Harper could mean a return to Washington and the recent signing of free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin shows the Nationals are trying to swoon Harper back home.


The Nationals boast two of baseball's young stars, Juan Soto and Trea Turner. Washington also has one of the best pitching rotation in the MLB with three-time Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer leading the staff.


Signs of Harper returning to Washington appear to be bleak, as the phenom turned down an extension worth $300 million over 10 years. Nationals' owner Ted Lerner weighed in on Harper's free agency decision stating they"really don't expect" Harper to return.


Managing principal owner Mark Lerner also shared his thoughts about Harper's decision in an interview with 106.7 The Fan early in December.


“I don’t really expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on.”


If Harper was to return to Washington, it would be an embrace of playoff stagnation for the 26-year old.


A dark horse, in search for a jump start in the superstar department, is the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco reached the pinnacle of Major League Baseball in 2010 and created a dynasty with their Even Year Magic. Four years removed from their last World Series, the Giants have collapsed inside the chasm containing teams stuck in no man's land.


Bringing Bryce Harper to San Francisco, a town forever in the shadow of Barry Bonds would allow the slugger to chase baseball's home run king in his own home. The problem is, San Francisco is under new management with Farhan Zaidi functioning as the President of Baseball Operations.


One of Zaidi's first moves was to designate relief pitcher Hunter Strickland, Harper's counterpart in a May brawl, for assignment. The move, unlikely done to ease Harper's apprehension in joining the team, still adds to the rumor mill.

The Giants have an aging roster with little help coming from the farm system. Expect Zaidi to rebuild the organization from the ground up, just like he did in Los Angeles by drafting promising young stars and finding a needle in a haystack type players.


Zaidi's former employer, the Dodgers, as of December 4th have made the biggest headline in regards to Harper's free agency.


According to Yahoo Sports, Los Angeles Dodger co-owner Magic Johnson joined a Dodgers contingent in Las Vegas to coerce Harper. Johnson has since denied the claims.


True or not, the Dodgers are a legitimate contender for Harper and this off-season is not the first time Los Angeles tried to acquire his services. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers claimed Harper off waivers in August and offered a trade package that included Yasiel Puig.


As of December 21st, the Dodgers opened up two outfield spots by trading the aforementioned Puig to the Cincinnati Reds in a package also including former all-stars Matt Kemp and Alex Wood. The move freeing up enough money to keep Los Angeles under the luxury tax is also said to have been to create room for Harper.


While Los Angeles has been the most aggressive for Harper, Ken Rosenthal has reported the team does not want to sign Bryce Harper to a 'long-term, record-setting contract".


Other teams interested in the coveted free agent are the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox. Both teams are in entirely different positions but could play major roles in where Harper signs.


The Yankees are in the midst of rebuilding the "Evil Empire" and are looking to sign any and every free agent in sight. An outfield consisting of two all-stars, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, does not need Harper but a rumored position change could bring Harper to New York.


Harper's agent, Scott Boras, said on SiriusXM radio that Harper could play first base for whichever team he signs with. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman avoided commenting but did not deny the possibility.


“Do I think Bryce Harper can play first base? I don’t know," Cashman said. "Obviously he’s extremely talented and athletic.” Cashman has since stated the move is "unrealistic".


Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported Nov. 19 that adding starting pitching was "a higher priority" than Harper even after the Yankees traded for James Paxton.

Bryce Harper (via stack.com)

The White Sox are the wild card for Harper because they have young talent and an unlimited amount of money to spend. The only way the White Sox can land Harper is if he values money over winning-Harper has not specified his desire.


Bryce Harper is a once in a lifetime free agent and stands above the rest of the players in this generation, especially to his agent Scott Boras.


Boras points out since Harper entered the majors in 2012, he is the only player to post an OPS of 1.100 or more. Disregarding the steroid filled 1990's and 200's, only one player eight players have posted a 1.1000 OPS-George Brett in the '80s, Willie McCovey and Norm Cash in the '60s, Ted Willams and Mickey Mantle in the '50s and Williams, Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg in the '40s.


"Anyone who's done what Bryce Harper has done at 25, you're almost a lock to be a Hall of Fame player," said Boras.


Harper may not be a lock for the Hall of Fame but is a lock to break the record for highest annual and total salary this off-season.


*preview photo credited to The Athletic

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