Tomase: Bryce Harper's going to end up with the Yankees, isn't he?

John Tomase
November 15, 2018 - 11:48 am
Bryce Harper

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

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The Yankees won 100 games last year. Now imagine them with Bryce Harper.

The former Rookie of the Year and MVP has hit the free agent market, and there’s only a handful of teams in baseball that can afford him. The Bombers top the list.

Harper reportedly rejected a 10-year, $300 million extension with the Nationals, and is expected to sign for no less than $350 million. Because he’s only 26 – he was born within a couple of weeks of Red Sox stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts in October of 1992 – this might not even be his last contract, depending on how he holds up physically.

With Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner downplaying the possibility of signing shortstop Manny Machado – he wants an explanation for Machado’s “troubling” disdain for hustle --  Harper and New York would appear to be on a collision course, no matter what the pundits say.

The Yankees aren’t portraying things that way publicly, of course, with the priority supposedly to bolster the rotation with two high-end starters – perhaps Arizona free agent Patrick Corbin and Indians ace Corey Kluber via trade.

But would anyone be surprised if next month's winter meetings end with Harper posing for pictures in pinstripes? Agent Scott Boras has already floated Harper’s willingness to shift from the outfield to first base, a clear overture to the Yankees (and lesser extent, I suppose, the Red Sox), who have a need there.

“Bryce has the feet, hands and skill to certainly adapt to first base,” Boras told MLB Network Radio recently.

(As an aside, the idea that the Yankees are too loaded in the outfield to accommodate Harper is ludicrous. Did anyone watch 35-year-old Brett Gardner routinely get overpowered last year? Is Aaron Hicks really untouchable?)

The left-handed Harper would balance a Yankees lineup that already includes right-handed sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, as well as Gary Sanchez, assuming he rebounds from a miserable 2018.

Alongside Didi Gregorius and promising youngsters Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar (unless one of them is packaged for Kluber), that would give New York the most fearsome lineup in baseball, but what else is new?

The question for the Yankees – and anyone considering Harper – is how good he actually is. Since winning the MVP award in 2015 with an otherworldly age 22 season (.330-42-99-1.109), he’s been kinda pedestrian by superstar standards. As evidenced by his 2018, his at-bats generally end in home runs (34), walks (130), or strikeouts (169). He’s basically a better version of Cardinals utilityman Matt Carpenter or Phillies outfielder Rhys Hopkins, and nobody’s lining up to give either of them half a billion dollars.

For now, the Yankees aren’t considered favorites to land Harper. Sports Illustrated lists the Phillies, Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers as frontrunners. With no financial commitments to speak of beyond Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, the Phillies can afford him. With two frustrating misses after winning it all in 2016, the Cubs could use him (though perhaps Theo Epstein learned his lesson in Boston after overextending for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford). The same goes for the two-time defending World Series losers in L.A. The Nationals would take him back because he’s the face of their franchise, and $300 million is a pretty competitive opening offer.

But forgive me for thinking that somehow, someway, the Yankees end up playing a role in this before it’s over. It would be a New York kind of move, especially in the wake of a fourth World Series title for the Red Sox since 2004. It could be justified by Harper’s age, and man would it make Red Sox-Yankees even more compelling.

The Red Sox remain the team to beat. Imagine marching through Harper en route to another title?

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