St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals can pay for Harper and avoid long-term payroll grief with opt-out clause

Cardinals’ offseason target: Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper is one of the top free agents available during the 2018-2019 MLB offseason, and many fans hope the Cardinals will try to bring him to St. Louis.
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Bryce Harper is one of the top free agents available during the 2018-2019 MLB offseason, and many fans hope the Cardinals will try to bring him to St. Louis.

This is the calm before the storm. The speculative weeks immediately preceding the MLB Winter Meetings, which begin this year on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas.

Issue No. 1 for St. Louis Cardinals fans and everyone else in baseball is this: Where will Bryce Harper land?

The Cardinals may or may not be considered serious suitors, depending on who you ask. But they do have the money and certainly have the need.

Whether or not they have the will is all that remains to be seen.

Here’s what we know: Harper already has turned down an offer reported to be for $300 million over 10 seasons from the Washington Nationals, the only club he’s known as a professional.

This backs the widely-held belief that Harper is holding out to be the highest-paid player in MLB history and is consistent with the rope-a-dope strategy frequented by super-agent Scott Boras.

It also sets a target somewhere north of the $325 million Giancarlo Stanton got from the Miami Marlins over 13 years before being traded to the New York Yankees last winter.

How do the Cardinals get there?

I suggest St. Louis, if it is serious about landing the slugging left-handed outfielder, offer a 10-year contract that guarantees Harper $340 million.

The first five seasons would be stacked, paying him $40 million each. In year six, he’d be allowed to opt out to test free agency again.

Should he waive his opt-out clause and force the Cardinals to pay for his declining years, he’d be paid a reduced salary -- let’s say $30 million each for seasons six, seven and eight and then $25 million for each of the final two years.

Paid to term, that’s a guarantee of 10 years and $340 million.

The opt out after five seasons would give Harper the chance to cash in all over again when he’s still just 31 years old, and take the Cardinals off the hook for what are, statistically speaking, any player’s declining years.

If the Cardinals are determined to get Harper, there is room for negotiation, possibly adding another $10 million to the sixth season of the contract and they could add another 10 million for the last two seasons if they so desired, making the pact worth $370 million.

Because, if Harper is anywhere near his prime when he completes the first five years, he’s going to opt out and test the market.

And the Cardinals should hope that he does.

Based on what we’ve seen in the past, some club out there will be looking to make a splash. It will give Harper another eight- to 10-year deal that, even if it doesn’t challenge a new record, would reflect enough market inflation to buy Harper out of what remains of his deal in St. Louis.

If not, he’d have a nice safety net that, relatively speaking, still gives the Cardinals some payroll relief.

If the Cardinals target free agents to help improve their offense this offseason, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson should be at the top of the list.