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Tampa Bay Times: The Rays should consider Bryce Harper for a one-year deal

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Harper Shmarper, I say

Washington Nationals v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

In 2018, the Rays won 90-game and were the last team eliminated from the playoffs, despite losing three starting pitchers to Tommy John surgery in the March-April time frame (thus birthing The Opener). The Rays were good, but they just missed the post-season and the revenues that come with it.

This year, the Rays should project to be even better, with Mike Zunino replacing C.J. Cron’s bat at catcher instead of first base; a full year of MVP candidate Tommy Pham penciled into left field instead of Denard Span; and with World Series hero Charlie Morton signed to a team-record $15 million annual guarantee that could keep him in Tampa Bay through 2021, to take the place of Chris Archer.

Like most every team, though, the Rays could improve by signing one of the big free agent names on the market, and with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than two weeks, the Tampa Bay Times would like to suggest one of those names for your consideration:

A one-year deal for Harper might be manageable, but it wouldn’t be painless. A half-dozen players are earning $30 million or more annually in the midst of multi-year contracts so Harper presumably would want more for a one-year deal. Let’s say $35 million minimum.

The article, by John Romano, cites a recent FanGraphs analysis that suggested the cost of one win above replacement is $10 million, making a salary in the $35-40 million range reasonable if you expect Harper to be a five-win player. For what it’s worth, Eno Sarris has the cost of the win still at $9 million over at The Athletic, but using either figure it’s true that Harper’s salary would still be a bargain for what he projects to add to a baseball club, because Romano is right, Harper brings something like four or five wins to his position.

Of course, the Rays have a right fielder though; two, for that matter: Austin Meadows and Avisail Garcia. The former is ready to be promoted to the majors, and the latter is a year removed from a four-win season himself.

Does the lack of an opening make this an unlikely move for the Rays?

With the Designated Hitter position open on the roster (after the aforementioned release of Cron), the Rays declined to be the top-bidder for Nelson Cruz (one of the top bats in baseball, despite his 38 years), who chose to sign with the Twins earlier in the off-season than the Rays were ready to commit (receiving a $14 million guarantee, where rumors had the Rays interest pegged at $10 million). Steamer projects 3.0 WAR for Cruz in 2019, and the Rays got a little less than that from the position last year.

The rub for the Rays was that Cruz was potentially only a part-time bat, and unable to take the field without any meaningful defense. Bryce Harper, of course, can take the field, even if his defensive metrics were in a tailspin last season.

There’s always room for a player of Harper’s caliber — you can keep Garcia at DH in a timeshare with Ji-Man Choi, and you can stash Meadows in the minors or on the bench for a season (after all, in this hypothetical, it’s just a one-year deal).

But does it make business sense? Here’s where things go a little off the rails.

If you think adding Harper locks up a 95-win season, you’re looking at a real playoff contender, and that means at least some playoff revenue. If you’re one-and-done in the wild card game, maybe it’s not much, but there’s something there.

Beyond that, perhaps more fans come to the game. If you’re Romano, you see a boost of 3,000+ fans per game, which is A LOT. Romano fesses up that this is a best-case scenario. We don’t have the revenue projection of a playoff run, although I suppose we could work backwards from last year’s $88 million player’s pool, which is built from this formula:

MLB Rule 45 gives the Commissioner’s Office 15% of the paid attendance receipts for all postseason games. The remaining 85% is divided as follows:

Fifty percent of the paid attendance receipts from the Wild Card games is contributed to the Players Pool. (This provision was added in the new CBA.)

Sixty percent of the paid attendance receipts from the first three games of the Division Series is contributed to the Players Pool.

Sixty percent of the paid attendance receipts from the first four games of the Championship Series and the World Series is contributed to the Players Pool.

All paid attendance receipts not paid to the Commissioner’s Office or contributed to the Players Pool is shared equally between the two teams in each Series or Wild Card game.

We also don’t know how many butts Harper could add to the blue seats. The Rays would not be going “worst-to-first” so it’s probably not the 23% increase Romano projects.

In the end, Romano suggests a $13 million boost from the fans in the regular season (btw, the team only gets to keep 70% of that number), and “tens of millions” for a playoff run. If those two abstract ideas add up to, say, $30 million, and Harper truly is a 3-4 win upgrade over in-house right fielder Meadows, and if you’re ok with losing out on the draft pick it takes to land Harper (itself worth $5-10 million), you can see a bridge to this breaking even for Tampa Bay.

A long playoff run, and perhaps the Rays are paying $5 million per added win on net. No playoff run, and the Rays are paying a lot more. If Harper doesn’t perform, the Rays lose a bet nearly the size of the current payroll.

The Rays already have a reasonable shot at the playoffs next year. How much more of a guarantee do the playoffs become if you add one player when you don’t know how the other pieces will fit together?

Poll

What’s the most you’d be willing to give Bryce Harper on a one-year deal?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Doesn’t matter, sign him.
    (82 votes)
  • 11%
    $40 million
    (60 votes)
  • 17%
    $35 million
    (93 votes)
  • 15%
    $30 million
    (81 votes)
  • 8%
    Less than $30 million, we can’t afford that much!
    (43 votes)
  • 31%
    You shouldn’t, idiot
    (166 votes)
525 votes total Vote Now