The fallout if the Astros were to sign Bryce Harper.
Let’s say that Jeff Luhnow was tailgating before the Texans vs. Colts game and walked up to you. You would probably say, “hey, you did a great job building that 2017 World Series team. It was unfortunate that ya’ll fell short last year. What are you doing to help the Astros win again in 2019?” Luhnow would then say, “what if I told you we were about to sign Bryce Harper?”
Let’s take a step back from that made up situation. Most people would probably laugh it off. There is no way that the Astros make that move, right? The Astros turned down Will Harris’ team option to save some money, so why would they go out and try to sign a player for ten years and $300 million? It would be a change of thinking for the Astros, but we have already seen that by signing Robinson Chirinos. After prioritizing defense with catchers, Chirinos is better on offense than defense.
From what I understand, the Astros are very serious about signing Harper. It has been written by Jeff Passan that “Harper’s affection for the Houston Astros is well-known.” Who wouldn’t want to come to Houston where they are already early favorites to return to the World Series in 2019. Harper probably watched the 2017 World Series and saw the excitement that the Astros had. Plus, there is an opening in the outfield where he would not have to play first base.
You can see why he would enjoy coming to Houston. However, why would the Astros want to sign a player for that long and that much? Many people have written articles about whether the Astros should sign him. But not too many people have written what would happen if they did sign Harper. The Astros have been labeled a dark horse to sign Harper by David Schoenfield of ESPN. Without going as far as saying that they will, let's look at the fallout if they did.
According to Brian McTaggart, the projected salary, including predictions for arbitration-eligible players, is currently about $132 million for 2019. This is much much lower than the $170 million they finished with last year. If Jim Crane and the ownership group is willing to take on the extra-salary, why don’t you throw crazy money at one of the best players in the game? If the cost to sign Harper is close to 10-years and $300 million, the Astros could decide to take the leap of faith. Disclaimer, it could take a lot more to sign him.
Other teams like the Phillies and Dodgers will have more money to spend on Harper. Unlike Pennsylvania and California, Texas does not have a state income tax. The cost of living is probably less in Texas as well, so his money will go further should he sign with Houston. Similar to what we have seen with Clayton Kershaw, the Astros could give Harper an opt-out clause after five years or so.
The Albert Pujols deal is still fresh in our mind, so would Harper be a better get for a 10-year deal? The most significant difference is that Pujols was 32 at the time, Harper is 26-years-old. The Angels knew that they were overpaying for Pujols after he turned 40, but they figured he would be worth it during the early stages of his contract. Yes, Harper’s batting average dropped in 2018, but he still hit 33 homers and drove in 100 runs. He is an elite talent and will earn a massive deal from someone.
As with most premium free agents, Harper was offered a qualifying offer. The Astros would lose a pick to the Nationals should they sign him. However, they would have Harper for ten years, so it would be worth losing that one pick. This could take them out of contention for big-time free agents like Paul Goldschmidt, should he reach free agency in 2020. This could also limit them financially to fill in needed holes on the roster or extending Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander.
Here is the big elephant in the room of a possible Harper deal, they would be unable to retain one of their current stars. If the Astros sign Harper, this would mean that George Springer would not likely be re-signed after the 2020 season. Put aside the fanboy view of Springer. It makes more sense to sign the 26-year-old Harper to a ten year deal versus a 31-year-old Springer.
Harper’s upside is higher than Springer. The Astros have tried to sign Springer to a long-term deal, but he hasn’t been too impressed. They did get him to agree to a two year, $24 million deal to avoid arbitration, but not one yet to extend him. If the Astros did sign Harper, imagine having Harper plus the core four together in the lineup for two years. That lineup would dominate any pitching staff.
The Astros are serious about trying to sign Harper. Not only is he a good player, but he has name value. His jerseys would fly off the shelves in Houston. The Nationals have said that they are not likely to retain Harper, the Astros could surprise us all. Will it happen? There is always a chance. The only thing that could keep him out of Houston is his price tag. They will only pay so much.