By: Robert Banas
The Washington Nationals have already offered their stud outfielder Bryce Harper a 10 year, 300 million dollar contract extension. Bryce Harper wants more. He and his agent Scott Boras want Harper to become the first 400 million dollar man in MLB history. To put that in context, Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252 million contract, when adjusted for inflation, would be worth roughly $360 million today. With Harper’s hot head and injury history, I do not think there is a chance he gets more than A-Rod’s megadeal. The Atlanta Braves, though, have enough cap space to make a deal he cannot refuse.
The Braves only have $48.4 million committed in the books with the contracts of Freeman, Teheran, O’Day, Inciarte, and Flowers. With arbitration and additional costs only costing about $38 million, the Braves have about $86 million on the books with no glaring holes to fill besides right field and pitching. They would not even go over the luxury tax threshold by signing him. Spending about $35 million a year for 10 years on a superstar phenom that had a solid, but not insane WAR of 3.5 and WRC+ of 135 and had terrible advanced defensive metrics does not seem like a smart decision to me, but some MLB team will do it regardless. Looking at Bryce’s options, the Braves seem to be a great fit. He can be a top-dog here unlike if he joined a team like the Yankees. The Dodgers and Cubs would have to spend a lot of luxury tax money if they wanted a shot at Bryce. He already denied the Nationals extension, and the White Sox are years away from being good. The Phillies are the only team that I can see that has a chance of stealing Bryce away from Atlanta, as he can get a big contract there, be their best player, and he already mashes at Citizens Bank Park (.306 BA and 12 HR). However, with the recent signing of Josh Donaldson, another guy with possible all-star level production, this could turn the needle in influencing Bryce to join the Braves.
The Braves can trade their current right fielder Adam Duvall, who has shown power in the past but hit a pathetic .195, had a 0.2 WAR, and a pitiful 69 WRC+ in 2018. They can try to flip him (possibly along with a prospect) for a reliever to make a spot for Harper in right field. Bryce would be an excellent addition to the middle of the order that could have an insanely powerful lineup of Acuna, Freeman, Harper, and Donaldson batting behind each other.
The rest of the team is solid and young. Acuna had a hell of a year winning the rookie of the year with a great 4.1 WAR. The Shelby Miller trade is still paying dividends. Dansby Swanson (24), Ozzie Albies (21), and Johan Camargo (24) are a scary combination of players that are under 25 and playing at a high level already. Swanson, the #4 prospect in 2017, has shown above-average defensive sabermetrics with 10 DRS and a UZR of 5.3 in 2018. Ozzie, the #11 prospect in 2017, broke out with a 3.8 WAR this year even though he had a low BABIP. Freddie Freeman is still playing great (.388 OBP, 5.2 WAR, 137 WRC+) and is a leader in the clubhouse. The rotation is young and the top 4 guys had a sub-4 ERA. Touki Toussaint is 22 years old, is a top 100 prospect, and shows potential as the final spot in the rotation. With remaining cap space after signing Harper, they can try to find some solid relievers (maybe even Craig Kimbrel).
There is no reason why Harper and the Braves are not a perfect match made in heaven. This signing could be the start of a dynasty for Atlanta. The Braves won 90 games in 2018 when nobody expected it. People thought it would take a few years longer before their prospects figured it out in the MLB. They have a good coach, Brian Snitker, that just won NL coach of the year. Harper joins a young, competitive team that can offer him a chance at a championship, along with the coveted deal he wants. Secure the bag and join the dynasty, Bryce.
Prediction: 10-year, $350 million