There has been a lot of talk lately about Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and his supposed wish to sign with the Chicago Cubs when he becomes a free agent.
That bummed out some St. Louis Cardinals fans who believe that the Redbirds have passed on one free agent after another so they can position themselves to bid on Harper when he hits the market in 2018.
First, I would say “don’t hold your breath.” A lot of people think that Harper could get the richest contract in Major League Baseball history when he signs, somewhere between $400 million to $500 million.
Ask yourself, if this franchise was unwilling to spend $200 million to retain its most iconic player since Stan Musial, letting Albert Pujols walk to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, what are the odds that they’d spend twice as much to sign a guy from outside the organization?
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Yeah, I get it that Harper is going to be six years younger than Pujols when he hits free agency. And that’s a big deal. But it’s still an incredible risk to gamble that much money on a player, no matter his age. He could get hurt or, sometimes, guys just lose it and transform overnight from being extraordinary players to purely ordinary ones. Some guys get into trouble off the field and others become problems in the clubhouse, gaining too much influence when they have the power of a giant guaranteed contract behind them.
Harper has turned in an MVP season and he’s in the running for the award again this year. But overall, he’s a .282 hitter who has had trouble staying healthy at times. He hit .243 last year with 24 homers, which isn’t awful. But it’s not $35 million plus a year money sort of production, either. And those 24 homers were the second-most he ever hit in a season. He’s on a pace to shatter that mark this year with 15 only one-third of the way through the year. But the fact that he’s had two awesome years and three just OK seasons would give me pause before I wrote that check.
So, second, the best thing that could happen to the Cardinals would be if Harper signs a ridiculous mega deal with the Cubs.
Harper may be younger than Pujols. But if he gets anything close to the money that’s being talked about, it’s going to be a deal in excess of 10 years. A 12-year pact would make Harper 38 by the end of the contract. So it may pay off in the short run to add an MVP quality player. But at what cost? The team that gets him is definitely going to have to pay him well beyond his prime.
The Cubs already overpaid for right fielder Jason Heyward who is having a fair season in his second year after a horrible one his first. If things go as they should, Heyward will realize that he’s never going to get the same sort of money the Cubs lavished on him if he opts out of his current deal. So he’ll keep the Cubs on the hook for six more years. If Chicago adds Harper for $400 million, the team would have $550 million tied up between two players.
The Cubs have tons of young offensive firepower. What they need is pitching. While they may have very deep pockets, are they going to have a $250 million payroll to add a couple of decent starters? If I was the Cubs GM, I would allocate money to shutdown starters and some more effective bullpen arms.
The team that gets Harper will end up damaging its ability to compete at some point. The question is whether that will be when he gets to the back half of his contract because of age or if it happens in the first half because of injury.
The last player the Cardinals whiffed on, refusing to ante up one more time as they supposedly saved money for Harper was a difference-making pitcher, David Price. As Harper moves out of the Redbirds’ grasp, it seems Price now regrets his decision not to take a little bit less money from St. Louis.
As many players before him found out (Edgar Renteria, anyone?), Boston isn’t the most comfortable place to play baseball. Price had an ordinary season (who would have figured from a lefty playing in front of the short porch that is the Green Monster?) and the fans and media there turned against him.
Price, like Heyward, has an opt-out clause coming up in his contract. His recent announcement that things have gotten so bad he refuses to talk to the Boston media on days that he doesn’t pitch seems to be the last nail in the coffin. Could he rewrite history by parachuting out of Boston and coming to the team he said for years he’d like to play for, St. Louis?
As much as I would like to think so, that’s extremely doubtful. Price has missed much of 2017 with an elbow injury that seems to be a ticking time bomb. Instead of getting Tommy John surgery, he’s gone the rehab route. Cardinals fans saw with Adam Wainwright that you can sometimes delay the inevitable. But you can’t eliminate it. So if he turns up his nose at his $210 million Boston deal, it’s unlikely that a club is going to come even close to that amount with his injury issue and the fact that he is now two years older. At some point in the next five seasons, he’s going to miss a whole year recovering. It could go at any time. And he’s likely to be less effective pitching through the pain.
If I was Price, I would have had the surgery immediately and hoped to have a chance to recover before potentially hitting the open market.
It’s a shame that money so often is the only factor that matters when it comes to building a team. But it’s likely going to keep two players who would have been great fits for the Cardinals and the pillar players this franchise so desperately needs out of St. Louis.