The Dodgers just added a big outfield piece by signing free agent A.J. Pollock to a four-year, $55 million contract. The deal includes a player option for 2023, with a $5 million buyout.
Los Angeles had been connected to Bryce Harper, and at one point were considered the favorite to land the superstar. At the start of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Harper would sign a 14-year, $420 million contract with the Dodgers.
In a chat session, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes stated that the Pollock signing all but eliminated Los Angeles from the Harper competition. He also said that the Cubs and Red Sox were not interested in the 26-year-old six-time All-Star. That’s three big-payroll teams sitting on the sidelines as the Harper pursuit heads into the final turn.
On Thursday, Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon and General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen informed the media that they will not pursue either Harper or Manny Machado. Meanwhile, the Braves signed Nick Markakis and the Astros landed Michael Brantley.
The Phillies inked Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million pact, but are still in the hunt for Harper. Philadelphia is widely expected to sign either Harper or Machado, but not both. The White Sox have also been linked to the superstar free agents, but aren’t expected to sign both either. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million extension offer from Washington last season, but the Nationals are still in the hunt to retain the face of their franchise.
The number of teams that both need and can afford Harper are dwindling. It appears that the Phillies, White Sox, and Nationals are the only clubs left that check both boxes and are actually pursuing the generational talent. But what about the Yankees? Where are the Yankees in all this?
When Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was asked about his interest in Harper at MLB’s Winter Meetings last month in Las Vegas, he denied having any at all, citing the team’s outfield glut and naming the six outfielders on the roster. Monday, I debunked the crowded-outfield claim by pointing out that the Yankees had the same six outfielders on the roster last season, yet were forced to play Shane Robinson in 25 games. Cashman also gave up two prospects to rent McCutchen for a month because the outfield was so sorely lacking.
The Yankees not only have plenty of room for Harper, but I believe they truly need him. Hitting with runners in scoring position was the weak link in the Bombers’ offense last season, which is something that Harper has excelled at throughout his career, as evidenced by his .899 OPS in such situations. With Didi Gregorius expected to miss at least half of the 2019 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, and Brett Gardner taking on more of a back-up role, the Yankees could really benefit from Harper’s left-handed bat in the lineup to break up righties Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres in the heart of the order.
So far this winter, the Yankees have added DJ LeMahieu (3.0 WAR), James Paxton (2.9), Adam Ottavino (2.6), and Troy Tulowitzki (did not play), who combined to produce 8.5 WAR in 2018. They also lost Gregorius (4.2 WAR), McCutchen (2.8), David Robertson (1.0), Lance Lynn and Adeiny Hechavarria (0.9 apiece), Sonny Gray (0.6), and Neil Walker (-0.1), who compiled a total of 10.3 WAR last season. That’s a net loss of 1.8 WAR.
Yes, I realize that Didi might not miss the entire season, but he’ll have to buck historical recovery rates to return to the field at all in 2019 — unless he DH’s, as I previously suggested. Replacing Didi’s left-handed bat in the lineup is arguably reason enough to sign Harper.
When Harper won the National League MVP Award in 2015, he produced 10.0 WAR. The last time a Yankees player tallied a WAR that high was Mickey Mantle (10.5 in 1961). Alex Rodriguez managed to compile 9.4 WAR twice for the Bombers (2005 and ‘07), and Rickey Henderson (9.9 in 1985) is the only other position player since Mantle to produce at least 9.0 WAR. So it’s plain to see how rare and special it would be to have a player with Harper’s ceiling in the Yankees lineup every day.
Yet, with two weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Yankees’ acquisition who enjoyed the most productive 2018 campaign remains LeMahieu. Is that it? Are we looking at the 2019 Yankees Opening Day roster? Or will Cashman make a move?
Cashman has been mum on Harper since his comments during the Winter Meetings. Of course, this could be a Ninja Cash ploy. Depriving Harper’s agent Scott Boras of the opportunity to use the Yankees’ interest in his client to bid up the asking price would indeed be smart. Or Cashman might not be pursuing Harper because he really isn’t interested in signing him.
It would be a real shame, if the latter turns out to be the case. It’s no secret that Harper has dreamed of wearing the Yankees pinstripes since he was young. He has incredible talent and the Yankees have an obvious need.
Boras is known for advising his clients to take a patient approach, so this could drag on awhile. In this high stakes poker game, it would not be surprising to see Harper’s free agency stretch into spring training — or even beyond the start of the regular season. I just hope that when the dust settles, Cashman and the Yankees are all in on the former MVP.