Bryce Harper, a National League MVP at 23, is a free agent at 26, peddling his services in an industry that’s grown to nearly $11 billion in annual revenues. His combination of skills, age and marketing cachet make him an excellent fit for any major league franchise.
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Even the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Harper, who has 184 career home runs and a lifetime .900 OPS, rejected a 10-year, $300 million contract offer from the Nationals in September, and is a good bet to set a new standard for the most lucrative contract in North American sports history.
It may take weeks for that process to play out. In the meantime, USA TODAY Sports will examine why every team could use Harper’s services – some more than others, certainly some better-equipped to procure them.
A case for Harper and the Diamondbacks joining forces:.
HOT STOVE UPDATES: MLB free agency: Ranking and tracking the top players available.
On the field
As agent Scott Boras held court in his annual holiday scrum at the winter meetings, a question was raised that is most germane to the Harper sweepstakes:.
Would he have interest in a team that might not be ready to win right away?
Naturally, it behooves Boras to not choke off any potential suitors for his client, but his answer made sense: How many years can any team expect to contend over a 10-year period?
In other words, Harper could sign a 10-year deal with a club this-close to the World Series, yet that same team almost certainly will endure lean years over the term of the contract.
If you’re lucky, Boras mused, a good team/franchise might make the playoffs five out of 10 years, six or seven if they’re lucky.
So even as the Diamondbacks trade away the cornerstone of their franchise, Paul Goldschmidt, that doesn’t mean every move they make must represent absolute retreat. Nor must Harper ring-chase by throwing himself at the most title-ready teams.
Naturally, it would be fairly simple to slide Harper into the Diamondbacks outfield now. Incumbent right fielder Steven Souza Jr. Batted just .220 in an injury-plagued 2018. Barring further trades, a Harper-Jarrod Dyson-David Peralta alignment would be more than serviceable.
While the Goldschmidt deal ostensibly marked the Diamondbacks as a teardown, Harper would still be younger than all the projected regulars save for infielder Ketel Marte and catcher Carson Kelly, who was acquired in the Goldschmidt deal. It would figure that more of the vets would be shipped off to further re-trench for the future.
Off the field
Harper is probably chagrined the Diamondbacks aren’t significant players in his chase: Phoenix would fit his vibe well. A pond-hop of a flight or a 300-mile drive from his hometown of Las Vegas, it’s a virtual baseball mecca year-round.
The Diamondbacks’ Scottsdale spring training facility – arguably the finest in the game – would afford Harper and family a homefield advantage that eases the strain of baseball’s never-ending calendar. And heck, if they’re like many young couples, the geography provides that ideal close-but-not-too-close positioning to family.
The Goldschmidt trade stung Diamondbacks fans, and any replacement star may not mollify some in the population. At the same time, there is a void to be filled, not just at Chase Field but in the Valley of the Sun.
Larry Fitzgerald is 35. Deandre Ayton has the misfortune of playing for a Phoenix Suns franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010. The Coyotes, we’re told, are a hockey franchise.
Unless Josh Rosen is the next Aaron Rodgers, Harper would be the brightest star in the Valley for the next decade-plus – no small feat for a franchise that relies more than some on local buzz and ticket sales.
Can they pull it off?
Weird club, these Diamondbacks. Their annual payrolls from 2013 to 2018 are more volatile than a day trader’s portfolio – from $86 million up to $112 million, back down to $88 million and all the way up to $131 million last season. One minute they seem firmly middle class, the next, they’re lavishing Zack Greinke with a $206 million deal that includes a record $34 million average annual value.
To be sure, the Diamondbacks have money: They, too, received what club president Derrick Hall called a “game-changing” TV deal, a reported $1.5 billion over 20 years from Fox Sports Arizona.
That won’t put them in the Dodgers’ rent district, yet with a franchise value of $1.2 billion and annual revenues of $258 million, as estimated by Forbes, they’re not exactly scurrying for pocket change.
With Goldschmidt dealt, the Diamondbacks are also shopping Greinke, and should he be dealt, they’ll likely need to foot some of his contract, which runs through 2021.
Beyond that, though, there’s plenty of room to add. Minus Greinke, Arizona has just $23 million committed after 2020.
Will it happen?
Highly doubtful. With the club’s arrow pointing down at the moment, it would be too far out of the team’s character to splurge right now. Had Harper hit the market with Arizona coming off one of its bust periods, the timing might actually be perfect.
Alas, the Diamondbacks are in retreat. Procuring a future asset while also rebuilding would be too far out of their character – even if enduring lean times at the outset could make sense for both franchise and player.