With arbitration and free agency looming, how much will the Washington Nationals slugger make now. Is Bryce Harper worth $40 million on the open market?
Some think on the open market that the outfielder can command $40 million a season or higher. As he approaches free agency at the tender age of 26, the skies the limit. The question is, how much is he worth?
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The highest salary at Baseball Reference listed now is Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and his whopping $34,571,429 earned last season. Pitcher’s David Price and Zack Greinke also topped the magic $30 million level in 2016.
Mike Trout, arguably the best overall player in the game with the Los Angeles Angels, made slightly over $16 million. In 2018, that jumps to $34,083,000. At a baseline, Harper should eclipse that no matter where he plays his first year of free agent ball in 2019.
In the five years Trout and Harper have been everyday players together, keep in mind Trout has never finished lower than second place in the American League MVP voting, winning twice and a Rookie of the Year. Harper also has a Rookie of the Year and a National League MVP on his resume, but has never finished in the top ten for the honor in any other season.
Without question Harper’s potential, marketability and talent make him one of the top draws of the game. If the Nats offered $10 million for 2017, no one would bat an eye. When he dominated the NL in 2015 at 22, the baseball world saw what he could do. That alone will give him a healthy paycheck for the next few years.
Is his potential worth $40 million? The Nationals probably will not fork over that much in two years, but he will get it. If he returns to the 9.9 wins above replacement level that he produced two years ago again, his 2019 team might pay closer to $45 million for his services.
Steep? You bet. An overpay? Think of it this way. Wherever he goes, his prime years will be on his free agent deal. You have a telegenic and charismatic player who can hit for 40 home runs and slug at a .650 level. His 2019 employer will be favored to win it all.
Although he is 17th in total WAR since 2012, we still need to remind ourselves he is 24. The best years of his career are coming, not in the past.
If both the Nationals and Harper are willing to talk a deal similar to Trout’s—where his prime years pay the highest—then everyone will be happy. Washington has time to plan around a huge deal while Harper secures DC as a great place to play.
One player earning $40 million is absurd on the surface, but comparable to top movie stars and singers. When you consider what a healthy Harper brings to the table, potentially, the notion is not so silly.