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?