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Why Bryce Harper’s Next Deal Will Top $400 Million

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper is in line for the largest contract in sports history.

Bryce Harper has been in the news recently as pundits peg him to ultimately be the first MLB player to receive a $400 million contract. It may seem a little far-fetched, but it is actually somewhat realistic due to his age and production. He will become a free agent at 26 years old at the end of the 2018 season. If he has a few more years like last, he may actually eclipse it and head straight for $500 million. He’s up for arbitration in 2017, so he will not land anywhere near this number until he hits free agency or signs an extension.  

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, as there are still three more seasons of play to factor in. Harper is coming off his best season to date, a year in which he batted .330 with a career-best 42 home runs and 99 RBIs. He also led baseball with 118 runs scored, a .460 OBP, .649 slugging percentage, and a 1.109 OPS. His WAR was a 9.9, which tied him with Zack Greinke for best in baseball. This all led to an MVP award and silver slugger. Not bad for a player who turned 23 after the season ended. 

Harper has the potential to be an all-time great, but he does have a few things going against him. The 153 games he played last season were the most he’s ever played, as he has dealt with knee and thumb injuries previously. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the game, but when he’s hurt, it’s another story. Plus, he was called up at 19, meaning he’s already played 510 games before turning 23. There are already a lot of miles on those already-injured knees. This will definitely be a factor when negotiating a new deal. 

Even though Harper’s played a lot of games already, he still is a young stud. When he becomes a free agent, he will be 26 years old, which was Alex Rodriguez’s age at the beginning of his 10-year, $252 million deal. It is a year older than when Giancarlo Stanton signed his MLB record deal of 13 years, $325 million. If Harper makes it to free agency, he will sign his deal after his seventh big league season, which is exactly what Rodriguez did. By then, we will see if he is the 2015 Harper who mashed the ball or 2014 Harper who only played 100 games.  

This massive deal can happen, but Harper needs to keep putting up stats like 2015. His first three years were good, not great. By comparison, the only offensive category he beat Mike Trout in from 2012-14 was triples in 2012. Harper had nine and Trout had eight, which shows Trout dominated him offensively and defensively during their first three seasons together. Harper won 2015 as he took baseball by storm. The two have been compared since 2012 and will be until they retire.  

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H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY

It was originally predicted that Trout would land MLB’s first $400 million contract, but he agreed to a modest six-year, $144.5 million extension with the Los Angeles Angels—an extremely smart move by the Angels, as they were able to keep the best player in baseball without breaking the bank completely, and a mind-boggling but respectable move by Trout and his agent, as he definitely could have landed one of the largest, if not the largest contract in the sport. 

This leaves it up to Harper to land the megadeal. He doesn’t have much competition for it, as the best players in the game are locked up for some time, and the kids who could be elite in the future are still too far away from free agency. Harper would lay the ground work for players like Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa in the future.

If Harper gets this massive contact, it could span over 12 seasons at over $33 million a season. But in order to get this deal, he simply has to be the best player in the game. He needs to pass Trout in the next few seasons and become the biggest attraction in MLB. Then, he needs to not accept a contract extension from the Washington Nationals. An extension would just delay his payday and could end up meaning less money, like with Trout. The team would love to lock him up early and not have to worry about him testing free agent waters, but he would be dumb not to. 

If Harper does test free agency, he will be very heavily pursued. All 30 teams will at least listen, but most will sit out. That leaves the usual suspects with a ton of money. 

The New York Yankees are already considered the favorites since they have four massive contracts coming off the books by then. Harper also grew up a Yankee fan, giving them a slight edge. But don’t rule out the top-payroll Los Angeles Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, or San Francisco Giants. Imagine Harper crushing home runs into McCovey Cove or into the short porches in Boston and New York. It would be something that MLB would love to see. The best player in the game in a big market. 

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports 

The one thing that could both benefit and hurt Harper at the same time is the stacked free agent class of 2018. He’ll join names like Josh Donaldson, Jose Fernandez, and Matt Harvey. As far as outfielders go, Andrew McCutchen will be there, and Jason Heyward may be if he opts-out. If they sign before him, he could see more money than them, as teams will gauge the early deals. Both players would be older than Harper at that time and would get smaller deals, but both could see annual salaries near $30 million, if not more. This would lead to a team spending even more annually, and thus Harper lands close to $400 million. 

But there is also a negative in this situation. Teams may choose to go after these players instead to save some money. With very similar stats, the lower market teams will use their resources for Heyward or McCutchen, or even Adam Jones. This could turn into a bidding war between these teams, leaving Harper out of the mix. Plus teams that know they will strike out with Harper will turn their intentions towards pitching and other positions. 

A similar situation happened this year with Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes. Upton eventually received a six-year deal worth $132 million, but that was after talks of a one-year deal in a slow market. Cespedes got three years worth $75 million with two opt-out clauses after Upton signed. Both should have received larger contracts but fell after Heyward, Chris Davis, and other position players signed.  

Harper is one special talent, so this probably won’t happen to him. He just needs to stay healthy and insanely productive. If this happens and the stars align, Harper will end up with the largest contract in sports, not just baseball. 

Prediction: 12 years, $420 million with the New York Yankees. 

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, Jaidyn Hart.

SQuiz
On which magazine was Bryce Harper on the cover for at age 16?
Created 2/20/16
  1. ESPN The Magazine
  2. Sports Illustrated
  3. TIME
  4. Baseball Digest

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