The MLB General Manager Meetings kick off today in Carlsbad, California. This gathering typically marks the first flurry of hot stove buzz around the league. There has been no shortage of Yankees rumors already, though, as the Bombers appear poised for an active winter. The most interesting lead to date, however, focuses on a player the Yankees seem to not have interest in pursuing.
According to multiple reports, the Yankees don’t plan on chasing Bryce Harper in free agency. Andy Martino noted last week that the front office didn’t include Harper in their offseason planning meeting. He explained that “...the Yankees’ early feeling is that Harper simply doesn’t fit. While they could use the left-handed bat in a righty-heavy lineup, they feel that their outfield and DH spots are spoken for.”
Then Steve Phillips, former Mets general manager, weighed in with a source of his own:
Bad news for Scott Boras and Bryce Harper: per a source the #Yankees “will not be in on Harper.” Not a complete surprise as indicated by re-signing of Brett Gardner. Seems Machado and pitching additions are Plan A.— Steve Phillips (@StevePhillipsGM) November 3, 2018
Maybe the Yankees have legitimate baseball reasons to not pursue Harper, as Phillips indicated. They could prefer Manny Machado and truly feel like they have an overcrowded outfield. That said, this feels like textbook posturing. A team leaks out that they don’t have interest in an elite free agent so they don’t have to pay top dollar.
Free agency is a protracted game of leverage. The Yankees have nothing to gain from saying they’re after a target like Harper. That puts the ball in the player’s court. If they say they aren’t interested, however, then the free agent goes on the defensive. Even if the Yankees did want the outfielder, they stand to gain nothing from saying so.
There also exists the possibility that the Yankees don’t see Harper as part of their plan now, but may later. These situations are fluid. Remember, it was only last November that the Yankees merely checked in on Giancarlo Stanton. “It’s little more than due diligence,” wrote Matt Bonesteel of The Washington Post at the time, “and lots of other teams are doing the same thing.”
Variables changed, and Stanton now plays for the Yankees. The same could happen with Harper. Maybe the team trades an outfielder, and that suddenly creates a path to playing time. Or maybe Hal Steinbrenner opens up the checkbook after finally resetting the luxury tax rate. A number of scenarios could unfold that would prompt the Yankees to reverse their position.
Harper, 26, hit .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs, and that’s considered a down year for him. He owns a career 140 wRC+, and posted an out-of-this-world 197 wRC+ during his MVP campaign three years ago. He will command a massive contract, but that’s the price you pay for excellence. The Yankees would assuredly be better with him in the lineup.
The Yankees say they aren’t after Harper, and maybe that’s true. It’s also possible that they are just playing possum. This is the posturing stage of the offseason. It’s too early to tell right now. We’ll just have to wait and see.