Washington Nationals: What to do with the $400 million dollar man?

Bryce Harper is looking for $400 Million when he hits the open market. What should the Washington Nationals do with the young outfielder?

News leaked today from the first day of the Winter Meetings near Washington that Bryce Harper would be looking for a 10 year, $400 million dollar contract when he hits the open market in 2018.   As jaws were picked up off the floor, the first thought running through the minds of many baseball fans must have been #pinstripes.  Who else but the New York Yankees could attempt to meet those kind of demands?  Even the Yankees should balk at the asking price by taking a couple of seconds to analyze Harper’s worth.

If Giancarlo Stanton is worth $325 million, surely Bryce Harper is worth more?

The current titleholder for baseball’s richest contract belongs to Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins for the 13 year, $325 million dollar contract he signed after the 2014 season where he finished second in MVP voting to Clayton Kershaw.  If we compare Stanton’s 2014 season with Harper’s best season when he won the MVP in 2015, we can certainly build a case that Harper had the superior season.

Relatively speaking is Harper’s best season 60% better than Stanton’s?  A $40 million average annual salary for Harper would be a 60% increase on Stanton’s average salary of $25 million and would be hard to justify, although Harper’s 9.9 WAR for 2015 is 52.3% higher than Stanton’s 6.5.

The current leader in annual average salary is Zack Greinke who is making $34,416,667 per season on a 6 year deal to throw a baseball one day of every five.  Of every day players, Miguel Cabrera is on a 8 year, $248 million dollar deal and averages $31 million per season.  If we compare Harper’s production to the highest paid every day player, does anyone really think Bryce Harper is worth a 29% increase in annual average salary over Miguel Cabrera?

If we use WAR as our measuring tool, Bryce Harper’s second-best season (his rookie season in 2012) is about the same as Miguel Cabrera’s last three seasons and outside of 2015, Harper has put up a WAR Rating 1.0 (2014) and a 1.6 (2016).   Harper has had one spectacular season in his first five but it doesn’t compare with the year-in, year-out production of Miguel Cabrera.

[We won’t even mention Mike Trout.  I’m sure Angels owner Arte Moreno would not be pleased to see a 10 year, $400 million dollar figure connected to Bryce Harper.  As multiple voices from the twitterverse mentioned, if Harper can ask for $400 million, what can Mike Trout ask for?]

Washington’s response is ‘taken aback’

While Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and his front office team currently have their hands full trying to empty their farm system of elite prospects to add Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen to their roster.  Maybe they know they only have a two season window with Bryce Harper on the roster to try and overtake the Cubs and the Dodgers in the NL.  Would Washington take two cracks at a World Series and let Harper walk?  Or can we expect a trade this off-season where Washington can re-stock their team with elite prospects and a team trading for him can control Harper’s rights for two seasons before making a decision to bestow on the young man $40 million per season?

How many teams could make a trade for Bryce Harper?

There are two major questions to answer here.

(1) Assuming payrolls remain fairly steady, how many teams can afford a $40 million dollar player?   There were four clubs with payrolls north of $200 million (Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox & Tigers) and if we broaden it to clubs over $175 million, we can add three more (Cubs, Angels & Giants).  Now how many of those teams would like to have one player making between 15% and 22.5% of payroll, we don’t know but it leads to our second major question.

(2) How many of these teams have the elite prospects to make a deal with the Washington Nationals right now?   Most experts would rule out the Angels, Giants and Tigers.   Among the remaining Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs, all of them would have the elite prospects Washington would need right now to go ahead and make a deal for Bryce Harper.

We will see when the Washington Nationals will cash in but given the contract demand, it would not surprise anyone to see Bryce Harper in a different uniform for Spring Training or at the latest, after 2017’s trade deadline.

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