Fresh off a unanimous MVP season in which he hit 42 home runs, batted .330 and paced the league with a .460 on-base percentage, Bryce Harper has finally — and legitimately — lived up to the hype.
He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, a No. 1 overall draft pick as a 17-year-old, and a big leaguer as a 19-year-old in 2012. He’s been on a meteoric rise and at just 23, seems poised for sustained superstardom.
All of this begs the question — what kind of contract would Harper fetch if he was a free agent right now?
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As it stands now, the 2012 Rookie of the Year isn’t due to become a free agent until 2019 and Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has said that he wants Harper in D.C. for his whole career. However, in this hypothetical situation, let’s assume that the Scott Boras client is testing the free agent waters.
Harper would be entering the market in a somewhat crowded class. Outfielders Yoenis Cespedes Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon are all free agents. It has even been reported that Boras is marketing slugger Chris Davis as an outfield option as well. It’s possible that the big name guys like Heyward and Cespedes fetch north of $200 million this offseason. Since none of them have signed, however, the market has yet to develop — but one could reasonably assume that Boras would point to the Giancarlo Stanton deal as the closest comparison.
Stanton signed a mega-deal with the Miami Marlins last offseason for 13 years and $325 million ($25M annual average). His deal includes an opt-out, however, after the 2020 season and is heavily backloaded.
While Stanton was the more established hitter at the time of his deal, hitting at least 22 homers per year since his debut in 2010, he has yet to reach Harper’s career-high of 42. Additionally, at the time of Stanton’s signing, he had accumulated 21.3 WAR over a five-year span; Harper is at 19.8 WAR after four seasons. Harper is also three years younger than Stanton, but two years younger than Stanton was when he signed his contract with Miami.
Taking all of this into account, what kind of deal would you expect to see Harper sign? Does he want to break Stanton’s record total of $325 million or Miguel Cabrera’s $31 million per-season record — or both? Is 15 years, $400 million ($26.6M AAV) out of the question? What about 10 years, $300 million? If a team didn’t want to sign him to a career-long deal, they’d likely have to pay more per season — a seven-year deal would put Harper in free agency again at age 30, benefitting both parties.
It’s an intriguing question and one that won’t be answered in the near future, but that didn’t stop us from creating this poll: