Pitchers and catchers have officially reported to spring training, but one of baseball’s biggest stars, Bryce Harper, is still unsigned as a free agent. The Yankees have shown little interest, mostly due to the notion that they have a full outfield. Still, it would be foolish to completely rule the Yankees out of any Harper sweepstakes until the very end.
However, it seems increasingly likely that the Yankees will pass on Harper. Let’s have a little fun with numbers and hypotheticals anyway, though. Let’s imagine that the Yankees are in an alternate universe where they can only choose two of the trio of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper to sign and have on their team. Which two of the three sluggers would be the best fits for the Yankees?
This is a discussion worth having, because if the Yankees let Harper go to another team, they may as well have chosen Stanton over Harper when strategically planning in the 2017-18 offseason. Knowing that Harper would be available in a year on a likely similar deal to Stanton, the Yankees chose to nab Stanton a year earlier. But was that right decision?
First up, let’s strictly look at 2018 performance. All things considered, 2018 was a relative down year for Judge, Stanton and Harper. Judge was injured for about 30 percent of the season, Stanton was good, but not great in his Yankees debut, and Harper similarly didn’t live up to his lofty expectations. To the numbers, then!
Looking at just last year’s numbers, it seems like the Yankees had the right duo of players. Judge was clearly the best offensive and defensive player, making the discussion between Stanton and Harper. Neither had the seasons they’d expect, and they honestly look pretty similar. Harper has a slight edge in ISO, plate discipline and wRC+, while Stanton had more home runs, a higher BABIP and AVG, and was a much better defender. Stanton’s defense is passable, but Harper’s defense is a true detriment to his game.
Of course, these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum for one year. A good front office has to look at past production and also project for the future, all while making a proper salary valuation. Let’s turn back the clock to the last 3 years, which expands the sample size exponentially.
Again, Judge is by far the best overall player. In this hypothetical exercise, he’s absolutely part of the outfield. This leaves the decision to Stanton and Harper. Offensively, Stanton looks like a marginally better player than Harper over this larger span. Again, the difference offensively is negligible. Stanton provides more power and consistency season-to-season than Harper, but Harper has a higher ceiling due to his youth, is a natural fit at Yankee Stadium as a lefty, and has better plate discipline.
It’s a tough decision, and I’m almost inclined to call the differences between each player a wash. In that respect, can you fault the Yankees for picking up Stanton a year earlier than they could have had Harper? The numbers say that the players are quite similar, so it would be inaccurate to say that the Yankees made a mistake in choosing Stanton over Harper. I know that Stanton’s first year in New York wasn’t what we all hoped, but he’s by no means a bad player. Even in a down year, he put up comparable production to Harper.
While it would be nice to have all three outfielders, the Yankees will likely have to make do with the two that they have, and that’s not a bad thing. They have the best of the bunch in Judge, and a meaty power hitter in the middle of his prime in Stanton. While adding Harper would certainly improve the team, the Yankees are no worse off by having Stanton as Judge’s running mate instead of Harper.