It’s been an offseason that may seem a little out of sorts for the New York Yankees. A team that we’ve all grown so accustomed to seeing spend major money on free agents has been dormant, yet to sign a single free agent in 2016. While at first this may seem as if they are completely content with the roster they plan on rolling out on opening day, it’s more likely the Yankees are preparing for the biggest free agent in baseball history.
The Yankees have holes in their current roster. The back end of their rotation remains a gaping hole as the Yankees stayed put in free agency. None of their stars has gotten any younger, and the question marks surrounding the age and health of those stars will only multiply over time. Veterans like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira no longer have their best years in the future.
But with the Yankees unwilling to increase their current payroll, they have prepared themselves perfectly for the arrival on the free agent market of perhaps the best young star in baseball history: Bryce Harper.
Harper still has two years remaining in Washington and the Nationals have proven to be a relatively consistent factor in the postseason chase, as well as big spenders. Last season they entered the top 10 with a $134 million payroll, a large chunk of which went toward the acquisition of Max Scherzer and his massive, $210-million deal. But the Yankees, who have traditionally had the most money in baseball, will have even thicker pockets when 2019 rolls around.
Teixeira ($23 million) and Carlos Beltran ($15 million) will be off the books after this season. In two years, the giant deals for CC Sabathia ($25 million) and Alex Rodriguez ($21 million) will evaporate, leaving the Yankees with $84 million of available money.
The big question will remain how much money Harper will be asking for when he hits the market. As it stands, many believe Harper and his agent Scott Boras will be demanding the largest contract in baseball history, somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 and $500 million. Freeing up that $84 million will make it easier for them to be the highest bidder.
Harper has publicly stated that he grew up as a Yankees fan, and that could be more than enough to sway him to sign in the Bronx, but Washington has the capability to be in the hunt financially.
The Nationals have only two players, Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman, locked up past the 2018 season, meaning they should have the resources to come close to the half a billion price tag that Harper may be requesting.
Some critics have pointed out that Harper hasn’t been the perfectly healthy superstar that many would have wanted, but frankly that’s unlikely to prevent organizations from extending him sport’s biggest paycheck. Harper is just 23 years old and plays the game with a type of reckless abandon that has many people fearing for his long-term health. Consider the other side of the coin.
Harper won’t be able to play the game at his high-octane level forever, which means eventually he will have to slow down. The hope is that he will slow down by choice before his body forces him to do so. I choose to believe that he will slow down by choice, knowing that he won’t be able to be a wrecking ball on the field for 162 games a year.
Even if Harper doesn’t slow down, it sure is a risky proposition not to pay arguably the best player of his generation over fear that he might not be healthy for the entirety of his contract. If the Nationals let Harper bolt for the Big Apple, Washington fans will only sit and wonder what could have been. Harper is too good to worry about price tags, especially for a city that is craving some kind of postseason success.
The Yankees have been sitting quietly this free agency, and you could make the argument that it’s due to their confidence in what they have going forward. But money talks, and if the Yankees have the money to convince Bryce Harper to come to New York, that could be the reason we haven’t seen the Bronx Bombers going after or attracting the big name free agents.