A fleeting statement from Peter Gammons quickly spread like wildfire across the internet and most of Chicago Cubs Twitter and other social media…
That would be former and potentially repeat MVP Bryce Harper, he of the Washington Nationals and perennial All-Star appearances, five very solid-to-elite tools, and my goodness can’t believe he’s still only 24…
…which means when he hits free agency after the 2018 season, he will be entering his age 26 season, just like Jason Heyward when he signed his mega-deal with the Cubs. Except Bryce Harper is a LOT better than Heyward, no offense to the current Cubs right fielder. Harper is probably the most talented player in the majors not named Mike Trout, and unfortunately, Trout is already spoken for by the Angels for the time being. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that either the Yankees or the Dodgers grab Harper when he becomes a free agent since they pretty much print their own money, but there is a finite possibility that he does wear pinstripes on the North Side.
The current outlook for 2019 has the Cubs at below $69MM (nice) in commitments, but of course, Bryant, Russell, and Hendricks will get more expensive in their second year of arbitration, and now Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber also enter arbitration themselves. The 2019 free agent list is full of goodies, with some intriguing pitchers as well as some guy named Bryce Harper. At around that time, Jason Heyward could potentially opt out of his contract (which would suggest that he got good again with the bat), but even if not, the Cubs are in good shape money-wise. Note that the luxury tax increases by a couple million dollars each year over the course of the new collective bargaining agreement as the Cubs’ commitments drop during the same term.
A lot could happen between now and then, and while many folks want the Cubs’ money to go to pitching, for very good reasons actually, I think there is room for Harper’s hypothetical contract to squeeze into the other potential commitments to arbitration players and non-Harper free agents. As for the Cubs core that would surround Harper in this fantasy world, Anthony Rizzo is under contract on reasonable terms through 2021 (assuming the Cubs won’t buy him out, in which case he’s done after 2019), Ben Zobrist is done after 2019, and various other key players will have their costs artificially depressed by arbitration through either 2020 or 2021.
With Wrigley Field and the surrounding area becoming a tourist haven, a winning club (we hope) for years to come, and a revamped television deal coming after the 2019 season, there could be plenty of revenue to support a mega-deal or two. By that time, the luxury tax threshold will exceed $200MM, and the Cubs’ commitments will come below that even if they elect to extend a few of their currently pre-arbitration guys. As for Harper, in 2018 he will receive a contract valued at $21.625MM. FanGraphs estimates that he has already accrued nearly $200MM worth of value over his career.
There could be ways to finagle the books, like the Nationals did with Max Scherzer in deferring a huge chunk of Scherzer’s mega-deal, to fit all this money for the long-term and keep the Cubs under the luxury tax. Even if both Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper (and a bunch of other guys) stick around on $200MM to $400MM bank-busting deals, that still remains within the realm of possibility. The debate should be whether or not it is a must-sign for the Cubs come 2019, but we still have nearly two seasons left to watch the dominoes fall into place.
Personally, if I was given this information that the finances look alright to add one of the generational talents in baseball, one who is just starting his age-26 season and who stands to remain good for six to seven years of a hypothetical 10-year deal…I think I’d just spend the money. But it’s not my money to spend, so we will have to wait and see what Theo Epstein and friends decide.