By Terry Cushman – @AVIDBOS_PODCAST
Every now and then, an article will come out on Bryce Harper’s future earning potential. Foxsports, NBCsports have both reported in the last year that Harper’s contract could actually total out to $500M. Articles like those will roll my eyes. The market for HUGE contracts on POSITION PLAYERS is dying with each passing year. Let’s look at some recent contracts:
Jason Heyward: Signed to a eight year/$184M contract with the Cubs. Was benched multiple games during the 2016 World Series due to poor performance. Like Harper, he was in his mid-20’s when he was inked to that deal. Undoubtedly the Cubs felt instant remorse for making such a terrible signing.
Miguel Cabrera: Signed to an eight year/$248M extension ($292M overall) after the 2014 season. Has six more guaranteed years remaining, is highly injury prone, and the Tigers likely won’t be competitive the next few seasons while they go through their rebuild. Ironically it was Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski who dealt that extension while he was still with the Tigers. Definitely a signing the current Tigers front office wish never happened.
Robinson Cano: Signed to a 10 year/$240M contract to the Seattle Mariners after the 2013 season. It’s debatable as to whether this was a “good or bad” contract. Performance wise, Cano has so far lived up to the deal. However, he is on the back nine of his career, and the Mariners have not made the playoffs since signing Cano.
Giancarlo Stanton: Signed to a 13 year/$325M deal after the 2014 season, is the largest contract in MLB history. It wasn’t a shocker that a terrible organization like the Miami Marlins would sign a player to an absolutely terrible contract. The Marlins have since been sold, and Derek Jeter has made it painfully clear that he would like to trade Stanton. There is enough years remaining on the contract for the Marlins to build around him, but Jeter doesn’t seem interested.
These are some of the more recent examples. Players like Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, Ryan Howard, Jason Werth, and Joe Mauer were all disappointing over the life of their contracts.
Most front offices all across the major league’s are much smarter these days. The era of giant long term contracts is seemingly over. The primary focus now is on drafting and development. The newly crowned World Champion Houston Astros are the model for this concept. After their general manager Jeff Luhnow took over following the 2011 season, he was very blunt and honest with the Astros fan base about the fact they would not be competitive over the next handful of years. With persistence, he built a juggernaut which captured the 2017 World Series. If the Astros had one more bad contracts on their payroll, their path to a championship would have been much tougher and less likely.
Take a current team that already has a relatively strong core of talent like the Red Sox or the Diamondbacks. Now pretend you’re a general manager and have set aside $40M annually to put the finishing touches on signing a player, or players to round out their roster and put them over the top to win that elusive World Series. Would you rather spend that entire $40M on Bryce Harper alone? Or would you spread that money out on a few players such as Edwin Encarnacion, Andrew Miller, and a utility guy like Mitch Moreland all for the same price? Ask yourself which of the two packages will win you the most games? Is the number of games that either Bryce Harper or Edwin Encarnacion will win for their respective teams a drastic enough difference? Definitely not. Both players will win you close to equally the same number of games.
To further emphasize my point in which teams are primarily focusing on drafting and developing, is that every single position player dealt at the 2017 deadline was traded for ONLY low level prospects. J.D. Martinez was acquired by the Diamondbacks for a package of prospects that will NEVER likely see the major leagues. Martinez went on to hit 28 home runs over the course of 58 games. Granted, Martinez and a few others were only rental players who were about to embark on free agency, but elite players with multiple years of control like Manny Machado and Andrew McCutchen couldn’t be traded because they didn’t command a valueable enough return to justify the trade. No team is willing to give up young talent with extra remaining years of control anymore, unless its for elite pitching. The pitching market will likely continue to explode.
Only once in the history of the World Series has it been won by a team with a player making $175M or more on it’s roster. That lone team was the New York Yankees in 2009, who actually had TWO players with contracts that large. They were Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia. Every team that has won it since had a balanced roster built mostly around home grown talent.
Furthermore, every team in the history of the World Series has won it without Bryce Harper. That’s a fact. And if for some reason I’m wrong, and some team does paralyze themselves by signing him to a giant ten year contract, that fact will continue to be true.
The precedence for signing players for around $200M is horrendous. So why would a team double that amount on Bryce Harper?
ICYMI: EPISODE 22 OF THE AVIDBOSTON PODCAST!! JD MARTINEZ? ERIC HOSMER? GIANCARLO STANTON?
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