The framework for a Bryce Harper deal

We want perfect information but we rarely, if ever, get it. One area where we probably shouldn’t get perfect information in the public arena is what a team’s payroll is going to be. If the Wilpons declare from up high that the payroll is going to be XX amount of dollars, it puts the GM at a competitive disadvantage. Now, the GM should have a very strong idea what’s available, which has sadly not always been the case. But that’s a problem for another column.

As fans in the public arena, the best we can do is listen for clues and apply some common sense to the issue. As for clues, COO Jeff Wilpon said that the payroll has “absolutely opened up,” while GM Brodie Van Wagenen noted after the Wilson Ramos signing that the club still has “some real money to spend.” Meanwhile, the past two seasons the club’s Opening Day payroll has been right about $150 million. If payroll has opened up and there is still real money to spend, what’s the likely amount for this year? Is it $160 million? $170 million? Could it even advance to $180 million?

Currently, Cot’s estimates the Mets’ payroll – counting arbitration raises and filling in with club controlled salaries – at $149.2 million. Or right about where it’s been in the previous two seasons. Interestingly, it recently came to light that the Mets offered Yasmani Grandal a 4/$60 million deal that he turned down. The club was willing to spend $15 million at catcher and instead they will be paying Ramos $8.25 million. So, it’s safe to say there is at least $6 million more available.

A lot of people want the team to add a true center fielder. Others want to continue adding to the bullpen. Some even want an upgrade at third base. Of those three options, my favorite would be the middle one, adding another guy with multiple years of success to the pen. But my preferred choice would be to crack open the purse strings even more and add Bryce Harper.

As mentioned earlier in the offseason, Harper comes with some baggage. He also comes with a 9.3 fWAR season on his resume. No other player has the ability to push the team forward as much as Harper. You can hate his personality, you can hate his lack of hustle and you can even hate his hair. But my preference would be to have a superstar starting with his age 26 season patrolling right field for the Mets.

Right now it’s less interesting to me to try and change your mind on Harper than it is to come up with a proposal that might be able to land Harper in Queens. It’s going to take a contract that rivals – and probably surpasses – the overall dollar value that Giancarlo Stanton pulled in, while also offering complex opt outs and option years, like the deal that Jake Arrieta signed last offseason.

Stanton signed a 13/$325 million deal that also included a team option for 2028, albeit with a $10 million buyout. The deal included a full no-trade clause, along with the right to opt out following the 2020 season. The top annual salary was $32 million, which he pulls in 2023-2025. The first three years of the deal, Stanton earned $6.5 million, $9 million and $14.5 million.

As for Arrieta, his deal made Stanton’s look simple. He signed a 3/$75 deal that paid $30 million in the first year, $25 million in the second and $20 million in the third. Plus he can opt out after the second year. But the Phillies can void that opt-out clause by exercising a 2/$40 million clause to the end of his three-year deal. Additionally, the salary could increase from $20 to $25 million annually based on innings pitched or even $30 million annually based on his finish in Cy Young Award voting.

So, Arrieta could have a 3/$75 deal. Or maybe it’s 2/$55. Perhaps it’s 5/$115. But it could be 5/$125 or 5/$135.

Knowing the deals for Stanton and Arrieta, what might work for Harper? It’s hard to imagine a deal that can’t be sold as a $300 million one. And it’s also hard to imagine that it wouldn’t contain an opt-out that occurs before his age 30 season. Maybe it contains some kind of club-centered void should Harper fail to approach his 2015 heights.

Here’s a proposal – a 10/$320 deal that has an opt-out clause for Harper after the third season. Additionally, after the fifth year, the Mets could terminate the contract if Harper failed to win the MVP Award in the first five seasons of the deal. Essentially, this makes it a three-year deal. So, how much would you have to give Harper to make signing for three seasons worthwhile?

Further complicating things is that the Mets would prefer to backload the deal to take advantage of when Yoenis Cespedes’ deal comes off the books following the 2020 season. Here’s one way it could shake out, given the opt-outs after year three and year five:

2019 – $25
2020 – $32
2021 – $43
2022 – $45
2023 – $45
2024 – $30
2025 – $30
2026 – $25
2027 – $25
2028 – $20

So, while the headlines would brand it 10/$320, which would be a higher average annual value than Stanton’s 13/$325, it would most likely be a 3/$100 deal with the ability to become a free agent again for his age 29 season when he should still be able to command top dollar with a multi-year deal. There’s at least some pull for Harper to come back, as he would still have 7/$220 remaining, with the bulk of that actually being front loaded.

Would this be enough to get it done? Who knows if the numbers work for both sides but this seems like the framework that a deal would have to be. In the immediate sense, it would force the Mets to carry a payroll near $175 million this year. One could argue that among a series of optimistic assumptions, that this would be the most optimistic of them all.

No one said that it was going to be easy or painless to add Harper to the club. All of the dollar figures being tossed around seem especially outrageous because it’s been years since the Mets were even remotely linked to the top of the free agent market, a point that Scott Boras, who just happens to be Harper’s agent, took great delight in pointing out year after year when Sandy Alderson was running things.

But after the Robinson Cano trade, the Mets explicitly said that they were worried about the present more than the outlook five years down the road. This would be a high-dollar move with essentially a three-year horizon, which exactly matches how long they have control over Noah Syndergaard. Nothing would say that the Mets intend to be division winners more so than a deal with Harper.

Does the club have the intestinal fortitude, and the dollars, to make it a reality?

24 comments for “The framework for a Bryce Harper deal

  1. Chris
    January 2, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    Nope

  2. January 2, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    4 years…..160…. some sort of option after that

    I’d rather have Machado

  3. Name
    January 2, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Your deal would be reported as 5/190, not 10/320, because only 190 mil is fully guaranteed.
    One would think that he would take a slightly lower pure 5 year deal to avoid giving the 5 year team option after the initial 5 years.

    If he’s looking to set the highest total money deal, it’s no bueno. If he wants the highest AAV deal (which i doubt because Trout will likely surpass him in 2 years), then it could work. I think he’s eyeing the former.

    • January 2, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      I disagree that’s the way it would be reported. Virtually no football contract is guaranteed and all salaries are reported for the full length of the deal.

      I’d be shocked if Harper wouldn’t agree to a deal that gives him the highest X now because it will be surpassed in two years. I don’t believe that’s the way players operate.

      • Name
        January 2, 2019 at 7:06 pm

        This is baseball, not football, so not sure why you brought that up. Baseball contracts are reported in the minimum amount a player would receive no matter what happens in the future. In your deal, years 6-10 are not guaranteed because they don’t vest unless Harper wins a MVP.

        If you want to see how the media might portray a complex deal, the recently signed Yusei Kikuchi is an example. There are 2 main ways it is being told.
        1) 3 years/ 43 mil with a 1 year player option at 13 mil or 4 year club option worth 66 mil.
        2) A 4 year deal worth 56 mil with an option that can go up to a total of 109 million.

        In either situation, the max scenario is not the main part being emphasized. No one thinks he got a 109 million deal, as he didn’t.

        At best, the media might convey your deal as a 5 years with an option that can go to a total of 320 mil, not a 10 year deal nor 320 mil deal. And you and i both know that media angle will not work for Boras.

        My best solution to how the Mets could get creative and fit in Harper and please Boras is to do the Scherzer way and go for a lot of deferred money, plus opt outs. Something like 10 years 500 mil but half of that won’t be paid until after 2030. That way Boras gets the “media win” for big contract, while the actual present value is more reasonable, and the cash outlay for the club in the coming years is manageable.

        • January 3, 2019 at 9:40 am

          Here’s how MLB.com listed the Kikuchi deal:

          “The Mariners didn’t release the financial terms of the contract and are listing it as a four-year contract”

          Obviously, the team can’t dictate to individual newspapers how the deal is portrayed. But at the very least, they can list it (and MLB.com will report it) any way they want.

          More interesting to me is your last graph. Not sure how the Wilpons view deferments in general and if they were against them, if they would consider this enough of a unique circumstance to change their POV.

      • January 3, 2019 at 4:07 am

        That’s the way Boras operates

  4. Pal88
    January 2, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    The wilpons are choking on your example.

    To be honest, I don’t think any ball player is worth that kind of 10 year commitment…

  5. Chris F
    January 2, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Congrats on a thoughtful, and reasonable, exercise. Ive had my up and down moments on the thought of adding Harper. I bet there is a 15 minute window that BVW must consider something like this every day (unless ownership has already said no). I would. Right now, if Harper’s career ended, he would be 8th on the all time Mets rank of bWAR. He will be playing all of next season at age 26. It is easy to imagine he would be in the vicinity of DWright career bWAR by age 31. Hard not to like the look of that.

    On the other hand, greater than 1/3 of his total bWAR comes from his MVP season, which logged in at 10. His other seasons (rounded up or down) in bWAR are: 5, 4, 1, 10, 2, 5, 1. He generates an annual bWAR of 3.9. If you said in 10 years as a Met he gave you 40 WAR, a number of post season runs, and a WS championship, I think you make that choice.

    If you throw out the MVP 10 bWAR year, Harper is an annual 2.9 WAR player. Nothing to sneeze at, but is it worth >300M$ even adjusted for the future times when 30M AAV contracts will be common? If there is a WS win in there, then sure. Also worthy of discussion is the decreasing metrics on defense. Can the team withstand to lock a corner OF with terrible defensive skills. His positive WAR comes entirely on offense. He has only posted positive numbers for bb ref dWAR 2 times in 7 years, the last time in 2015. The trend line is down.

    Even as an injury risk he’s always logged >100 games played, averaging 132 games per season so far.

    If you think of the business end of the game, will he fill the seats to pay for his salary? The Mets finished 10/15 in attendance last year, and only twice in the Alderson years with an average attendance of >30,000 per game. Will Mets fans consider Harper “must see in real life” viewing? Will 1000 extra fannies warm seats (thats about 8M$/yr on an average of 100$ per seat) that otherwise wouldnt attend? If you accept that, then maybe the 32M$ AAV doesnt kill you. What about ad sales in NY? What about the nonstop backpage news and associated revenue?

    Me? Im still not burning down the house for a corner OF, although getting Harper opens Nimmo and Conforto to be traded for other (CF?) pieces.

    • January 2, 2019 at 4:59 pm

      I’m not a big believer that fans come out to see Player X on a regular basis. Maybe you can make that case for a pitcher and certainly a pitcher going for a milestone, like a few years back when Dickey was going for his 20th win. But I would not approach it that 1,000 extra fans – or whatever number – would come out to see Harper. Not in a vacuum. If Harper leads the Mets to 98 wins then the extra attendance will come.

      I think it’s reasonable to say that the Mets should have won more games than they did in 2018. And it’s reasonable to think they’ve added a few wins with their offseason moves to date. Would a Harper signing take them to that next level? I think it would but I’m not going to argue much with anyone who feels differently.

  6. January 2, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    The Met team is currently underrated offensively. Adding Harper or Machado would be great and completely unrealistic. Adding Adam Jones or A.J. Pollock would also be huge to solidifying the front of our lineup but several questions remain.

    1) Will the Mets allow Peter Alonso to take over at first base and can he perform up to his potential?

    2) Will Wilson Ramos live up to his contract and actually be an upgrade on defense?

    3) Will the Mets get a veteran lefty or rely on Daniel Zamora and Tim Peterson?

    Getting an outfielder or a superstar are still secondary.

    • January 2, 2019 at 5:03 pm

      Peterson is at best a fringe major league pitcher – can’t imagine a scenario where they rely on him. Like what I saw of Zamora but he’s a 7th man in the pen type to me at this point.

  7. TexasGusCC
    January 2, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    Harper is not worth his publicity. You’re right that he had a 9.3 fWAR in 2015, but that was four years ago. Too, after his initial couple of years of 4+ fWAR and the previously mentioned 9.3, he has been very good but not superstar worthy.

    Meanwhile, in 3 out of the last 4 years, Machado has surpassed 6.0 and plays a harder position to fill.

    While I wouldn’t spend that money in either, if I could have either one, I’d take Machado.

    • TJ
      January 2, 2019 at 5:34 pm

      I agree.

      But, any time I consider Harper or Machado for evenbine minute, I hear Steven Tyler in my head loud and clear – dream on, dream on,dream on

      • Metsense
        January 2, 2019 at 7:09 pm

        If the Mets were going to give a big contract out then I would also take Machado over Harper. Machado at 3rd or even shortstop would be a tremendous upgrade at two positions that have not produced. Maybe I am dreaming on but maybe it’s time for the Mets to Walk This Way

        • Chris F
          January 2, 2019 at 7:18 pm

          With BVW Back in the Saddle, one has to wonder if the Mets have the Rocks to Get the Lead Out in order to make Harper a franchise player, or whether it will be more Rats in the Cellar as usual, leaving us all Sick as a Dog.

  8. Dave
    January 3, 2019 at 5:16 am

    I’d love to have Harper, but this is the Mets we’re talking about here and I just don’t see it happening. BVW just recently made it clear that he’s reluctant to go after Pollock. If that is the case, then how could he ever convince the Coupons to pay up for Harper?

    • January 3, 2019 at 9:44 am

      I don’t see those two situations as comparable.

      Pollock is entering his age 31 season having only once in his career having amassed 500 PA. He’s never been mentioned as one of the top players in the game. Harper is entering his age 26 season and he’s already a 6-time All-Star.

  9. MattyMets
    January 3, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    That’s some nifty math, Brian. Let’s keep it mind for when Arenado, Trout or someone worth near that commitment becomes available.

    Harper screams 24+1 to me. Look past his numbers (which other than one really good year, are overrated). With all the talent in Washington these past 5 years how has this team never advanced past the division series? Nationals ownership/front office seems to hold their managers accountable but to me there’s got to be a clubhouse problem and all signs point to captain spotlight.

    • TexasGusCC
      January 3, 2019 at 12:08 pm

      Captain Spotlight! That’s an instant Classic!

      On MLBN during the winter meetings, Amsinger had his analysts play the free agents. I’ll never forget when he asked DeRosa to do Harper. DeRosa looked down, looked up with a head fling as if to fling the long hair back, and announced that whatever team signs him will not need to market because (Harper) sells tickets. Exactly Harper’s opinion of himself: He’s kind of a big deal! And he hasn’t done anything!

  10. Eraff
    January 3, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    The 2 Free Agent Jewels should probably play for the biggest money they can over the next 5 years…and they can dictate that they will be with Pennant Chasing Teams. They would also be back on the Market as 30-31 year old stars.

    I believe a 35-40 million/year 4 year plus options would make sense for the players… They may end up choosing 160-200 for 5 years, with control over their careers and future options to make even more. That’s no more a Gamble than taking a 10 year deal in a place that “becomes the wrong place”.

    The Deal Stanton signed in Miami was a Death Sentence fror Him and the Marlins…and it’s a bit curious that the Yanks took on his 10 years and are publicly balking at long deals now. Both of these guys are better players

    I’d like to get Machado…not Harper

    • TexasGusCC
      January 3, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Eraff, Harper is not better than Stanton. Machado? It closer..

      • January 3, 2019 at 8:17 pm

        Since Harper came into the league in 2012, it’s pretty much a toss-up as to if he’s better than Stanton. Giancarlo holds a 32.0 to 30.7 fWAR edge but given that those were Stanton’s age 22-28 seasons while they were 19-25 for Harper – and Stanton had two MLB seasons under his belt and we’re counting Harper from his rookie season – well, I’d think that Harper’s been better.

        If we use Harper’s first 7 seasons versus Stanton’s first 7, we get Harper with a 30.7 to 27.5 edge.

        FWIW, Steamer projects Harper to turn in a 4.9 fWAR season while it has Stanton with a 3.7 mark

        • MattyMets
          January 3, 2019 at 10:19 pm

          based on a lot of hype and one very good season this guy was anointed one of the best players in baseball. IMO, there’s a long list of players I’d rather have. Trout, Altuve, Arenado, Ramirez, Lindor, Machado, Judge, Stanton, Betts, Correa, Rizzo, Freeman, Yellich…not to mention some of the top pitchers and Vlad Jr.

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