It looks like the Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper might have a little bit of a problem — and it’s not about his 110 percent style that’s had the prized phenom running into walls face-first and banging up his knee.
No, this little tussle is much simpler, relatively speaking: it’s about the money. Not that money is ever that simple when teams are dealing with Scott Boras clients …
More specifically, it’s about whether or not the young star is about to make more of it from MLB‘s arbitration system, which Washington had hoped to avoid upon signing the first overall pick back in 2010. Details of the disagreement was reported by Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, but the short is that the two sides are potentially headed for a hearing to see if Harper would be able to enter the arbitration system when he qualified (likely via Super Two status in 2015).
The dynamics of the potential grievance hearing itself is another story, but one of the interesting possibilities it brings up would be whether it’d make sense for the Lerners and Mike Rizzo to rip up that original five-year deal altogether and lock up Harper for good — or at least over the next decade-plus anyway.
That’s obviously a major commitment, and it’s a difficult call to make that wouldn’t apply for just about every other young star in the game (except maybe for that kid out west with the Los Angeles Angels), but guys like Bryce Harper don’t come around too often.
After all, even if there’s no way to see how the baseball landscape will look like that far ahead , you’d think it’d be in line with the Nationals’ vision for at least the next 5-6 years to keep the outfielder around as the face of the franchise.
With Harper having just played his age-20 season and already having accumulated 8.3 fWAR, it goes without saying that any long-term deal is going to be a very pricey venture; perhaps not historically so, but there’s no room for frugality here.
Fortunately for us, Boras has already taken some of the guesswork away when he suggested back in the summer that he’d be “into” 12-year deals for players like Harper.
If that’s the guideline that we’re going by, that would take him through his age-32 season in 2025, where he would potentially (assuming an upward career trajectory) be able to earn one more long-term deal to close out his career. His Super Two status would come into play as a deal would buy out four lucrative arbitration years, on top of the 2.15 million that he’s slated to make in 2014.
That’s just small details compared to the whopping seven years of free agency that the Nationals would be paying for, of course, and it’s here where they will have to find some middle ground.
So what kind of numbers are we looking at? Well, Kilgore suggests that Harper could make anywhere from $4-7 million in arbitration in 2015, which is to say that a potential deal will likely pay him more during those years for the sake of team control. This is just one guess, but let’s say it looks something like this (estimated production in brackets):
2014: $2.15 million (4.5 fWAR)
2015: $8 million (4.5 fWAR)
2016: $10 million (5.0 fWAR)
2017: $10 million (5.5 fWAR)
2018: $12 million (5.5 fWAR)
That takes him through his arbitration years at what should be above award value, which would then take us to his FA years. For the sake of argument, let’s say that he’ll peak at age 28 as a 8.0 fWAR player, and would put up at least five 6.0-plus fWAR seasons:
2019: $15 million (6.0 fWAR)
2020: $15 million (7.5 fWAR)
2021: $19 million (8.0 fWAR)
2022: $19 million (6.0 fWAR)
2023: $22 million (6.5 fWAR)
2024: $22 million (4.5 fWAR — down year as extension talks distract him)
2025: $25 million (5.5 fWAR)
In this fake, nonexistent deal, the Nats would be shelling out a whopping $179 million to a 21-year old, which would be fairly unprecedented.
That said, would this sort of thing be a risk Washington should take? Harper has already been an All-Star twice, and at 4.5 and 3.8 fWAR in his first two seasons respectively, he’s already given the team approximately $20.3 million and $19.1 million in production. You’d think that even if he never becomes a superstar and breaks that 7.0 fWAR barrier, averaging 5.0-5.5 fWAR throughout the deal would be more than worthwhile.
And with the 12-year deal slated to carry him through him prime, the chances of that happening (barring significant injury) are probably pretty good, no?