Why Bryce Harper is Not Worth $400 Million
The 2019 Major League Baseball free-agent class is loaded with marquee players. Numerous stars in the class such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw, among others, will ink hefty contracts next winter regardless of whether or not they remain with their respective franchises.
Over the last couple of seasons now, there has been rampant chatter about which player could potentially become the first $400 million baseball player ever. The first guess, per usual, would be Mike Trout, and why wouldn’t it be? Trout entered last season as the all-time leader in WAR through the age of 24 and then looked to be on the cusp of having his best season yet. Before his thumb injury, he was working on a 1.203 OPS and had a shot at 50 homers, 30 stolen bases and 11 WAR.
However, the six-year, $144.5 million deal he signed in 2014 runs through 2020, which leaves room for Machado, Harper or Kershaw to beat him to the punch. Technically, Kershaw's then-record-setting seven-year, $215 million contract runs through 2020. However, he has an opt-out after 2018.
His best bet of getting there is going the extension route after this season. The Dodgers already owe him roughly $106 million between 2018 and 2020. Kershaw just turned 30 last month though, so a $400 million contract seems less likely.
Machado seems more realistic given that he is just 25 years old and has established himself as one of the premier two-way infielders in baseball already. On the other hand, Machado stumbled in 2017, hitting just .259 and posting his worst WAR (3.5) since 2014. Machado has been terrific so far in 2018 with a .315 average and 24 home runs before the All-Star break. However, there is one other player that is the most likely candidate to make history.
That would be Harper, who will not turn 26 until October. His list of accomplishments is already extremely impressive. Harper first showed his immense potential in 2012 posting maybe the greatest season ever by a teenager. Then in 2015, he led the MLB in WAR en route to a unanimous National League MVP. Before his injury 2017, Harper was again a leading candidate for the NL MVP.
All that said, there are several caveats to consider that would not make Harper worthy of a gargantuan $400 million deal. First off, in theory, the contract will require probably about 15 years, which would put Harper at 42 years old by the end of the deal, and it is unlikely he will be playing at that point.
Harper has also been very inconsistent throughout his first six years in the league. Following his incredible MVP season in 2015, Harper followed up with a meager .243 average and 1.6 WAR in 2016. Prior to that in 2014, Harper recorded just 13 home runs and 32 RBIs, along with 104 strikeouts and a 1.0 WAR.
By the way, the first half of his 2018 campaign has been incredibly rocky, which have many people questioning what he has done to deserve a spot in the National League All-Star team starting lineup. If the season ended today, Harper would set career lows in batting average and WAR. He also has struck out 102 times already this season, which is on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 131 punch outs in 2015. While his 23 first half homeruns and Home Run Derby crown are impressive, a .214 average and 0.0 WAR raise eyebrows.
A prime reason for Harper’s inconsistency throughout his career has been his inability to consistently stay healthy. Harper has missed more than 44 games in three of the six years he has been in the league and has played at no less than 140 games just twice in his career to this point.
Even in 2017, where he hit .319 and posted a WAR of 4.7, he still played just 111 games. While Harper has stayed healthy so far this season, his injury history suggests that he will likely miss time at some point again this season.
There is this mantra in sports that the best ability is availability, in which Harper clearly has not proven to be the most proficient at this stage. Should an MLB franchise really be throwing almost $26 million per year his way when he has been absent for a decent chunk of almost every season he has played?
Furthermore, the expectation of a $400 million player should be that he carries an average near .300 and hits at least 30 home runs per season while driving in 100+ runs. Harper, throughout the first six years of his career, however, has averaged just 25 home runs, 70 RBI and a 4.6 WAR per season despite a respectable .286 career average. Those numbers also exclude his poor start to the 2018 season.
There is no debating that Harper is an otherworldly talent and has as high of a ceiling as anyone in the game. Overall though, his injury history and inconsistency to this point in his career do not warrant such a lucrative deal.
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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