As the offseason lingers on, Bryce Harper remains available and stories leak out that maybe his alleged suitors aren’t as interested as they were supposed to be. Could he still fall to the St. Louis Cardinals?
Ken Rosenthal reported Monday that the Los Angeles Dodgers, long thought to be the favorite to land Harper, don’t want to pay him a record-setting amount of money. Nor do they want to pay him a 10-year deal as the slugging outfielder has already turned down from his original team, the Washington Nationals. MLB.com reported later Monday that the Phillidelphia Phillies, who threatened to spend “stupid” amounts of money this winter on a bid to return to being competitive, much prefer fellow superstar free agent Manny Machado to Harper. The New York Yankees have already publicly backed off or Harper and the Chicago White Sox traded for Yonder Alonzo, Machado’s brother in law, seemingly a sign of their free agent intentions.
Yet the Redbirds still sit on the sideline. Are the truly going to sit this one out, even if Harper becomes a relative bargain? Or are they just waiting to pounce?
St. Louis has been leery of passing out decade-long contracts in the past, choosing to let franchise icon Albert Pujols walk away to the Los Angeles Angels instead of paying him past his prime. But, as has been talked about at length the last few months, Pujols was 32 when that happened. Harper is 26. Because of the way the market has panned out combined with Harper’s age, I think the ticket to bringing Harper to Busch Stadium might be to craft a deal for more than 10 years.
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I suggest the Cardinals offer Harper a 12-year, $330-million pact to play his home games in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. Why? Because Harper allegedly wants the richest contract in Major League Baseball history. The standard right now is Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million over 13 years with an option for a 14th season. Why extend the deal beyond the 10 years Harper is said to be asking for? Well, if you’re going to pay him the amount of money he wants, why not get the most time out of it? Besides, lengthening the deal will lower the annual blow. Instead of $33 million a year for 10 years, 12 seasons works out to annual installments of $27.5 million. If the Cardinals don’t want to pay for a 37-year old Harper some day, that’s fine. Take the $5.5 million each year and invest it, collecting interest on their cash until it’s time to pay the piper.
There is a limit how far St. Louis is going to be willing to go for a single player. I get that. But a few weeks ago there was talk that Harper could get upwards of $400 million. If he can be had for a much more reasonable price, wouldn’t the team have to kick it around a bit?
While agent Scott Boras’ portrayal of Harper as a box office darling and a transformational player might seem silly on some levels to a team that routinely sells out its home ballpark, let’s not pretend that the Cardinals play in a vacuum. I saw the empty seats last year even when the Redbirds were still in the race down the stretch. Also, don’t forget that the club isn’t just selling itself to fans. Last year Stanton wouldn’t accept a trade to St. Louis because he didn’t believe the team was committed to winning. Wouldn’t going out and getting an MVP winner in his prime make players who want a chance to win take notice? Sure, we can say that adding Paul Goldschmidt is a similar move. But the difference maker is that Goldschmidt is only committed to play here for a year. Signing Harper makes the Cardinals committed to trying to win for the next decade or more.