As I sit down to write a post for today, I see a rumor suggesting that Bryce Harper has entered the final stages of his free agency. The Phillies, according to Jon Heyman, remain the favorites to sign the superstar outfielder. They made their interest known early and repeated it throughout the winter.
Then right on cue, a report emerges insisting the Yankees have no interest in signing Harper whatsoever. Andy Martino appears to relish the chance to proclaim the Bombers out; he has done so all offseason long. “[The] Yankees and Mets both went wire to wire with their disinterest,” he tweets. “Despite some buzz about a Yankees meeting with Harper, it never happened.”
Harper, in theory, should top the Bombers’ wish list. At 26 years old, he fits squarely into the youth moment. He ranks on the extremely short list of best hitters in baseball. Adding Harper to a contending team like the Yankees pushes them over the top. He shifts the balance of power in the league. Plugging him into the lineup separates New York from a pack that also contains Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, and Cleveland.
So, what is going on here? How can the Yankees entirely count out an elite free agent? You can’t even write it off as coy radio silence, because the team has vociferously expressed their disinterest. “No time at all all winter have I said I’m looking for an outfielder,” GM Brian Cashman said to Coley Harvey at the Winter Meetings. “The Harper stuff ... I’m surprised you’re still asking.”
Some common suggestions have surfaced to explain the Yankees’ lack of interest, but none prove satisfying.
The Yankees have too many outfielders - Right now the Yankees have an impressive outfield depth chart. It runs six names deep. That, however, shouldn’t deter them from importing Harper. One can whittle the list down to four right off the bat as Jacoby Ellsbury expects to start the season on the injured list. Tyler Wade also has yet to demonstrate the ability to hit at anything beyond a Quadruple-A caliber. Besides, he fits best around the infield. Brett Gardner may be cooked, while Clint Frazier spent last year battling a concussion. The 2019 depth looks good, but it contains no sure thing.
Adding Harper also goes beyond this year. Aaron Hicks will hit free agency after the season. The same goes for Gardner, and he may be forced to hang up his cleats. The team has no ready-made replacement. Estevan Florial remains years away. The same goes for Everson Pereira, Antonio Cabello, and Josh Stowers. Next year’s crop of free agent outfielders doesn’t look enticing either, not unless you buy into Nicholas Castellanos. Sign Harper now and the team solves a problem for next year.
Harper is overrated - Somehow people seem to have forgotten that Harper is an elite baseball player. They say he’s inconsistent. They point to his low batting average in 2018. They worry about his defense. All of these factors do little to define Harper as the player, the actual generational talent.
Everyone appears fixated on his 2018 season. Yes, he did slash .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs. A slow start, however, explains the somewhat pedestrian (by his own standards) season. After the All-Star break, Harper hit .300/.434/.538 with 11 homers. His 159 wRC+ in the second half fits right in with his career excellence. His .387 xwOBA also suggests that he had a far better season, and places him right around Aaron Judge in terms of production.
Some like to point to the 2015 season, when Harper won the MVP with a Ruthian effort, as the only time he played to an elite level. That’s nonsense. In 2017, Harper hit .319/.413/.595 with 29 home runs. He accrued 4.8 fWAR. Oh, and he did that while appearing in just 111 games. If anything, fans and commentators have underrated Harper this winter.
The Yankees have to save for the young core - Hal Steinbrenner once said that the Yankees have to think about the future. They have a young core that will get expensive soon, and that is why they cannot splurge on the game’s best free agents. Remember when the team couldn’t spend on Max Scherzer because there were too many pricey contracts on the books? Funny how that turned out.
The Yankees, however, did just extend Luis Severino. It came at a team-friendly price, too! If the organization reached out to its other young stars, they might be surprised at how affordable they come. The economic climate in baseball is not good for the players right now.
This rationale always sounded fishy, but now it’s clear that the organization is using both sides of the coin to their advantage.
The Yankees are actually focusing on Manny Machado - hahahahahahahahaha
When the Yankees slipped underneath the luxury tax threshold last year, many believed it would lead to a spending spree this winter. The team added plenty of different players, but they didn’t go near the very best free agents. That seems so out of the Yankees’ DNA. Never before did they so willfully pass on elite talent. They used to always check in on every big name. Now, they didn’t even do due diligence on Harper, a game-changing player with lifelong dreams of wearing pinstripes? That’s bad.
Baseball is broken. The Yankees failing to court one of the game’s best players should sound every alarm.