To date, there have been no published reports indicating the Mets have interest in or will eventually sign Bryce Harper. However, if things break the right way, I see a way Brodie Van Wagenen can step in and steal him.
Again, based on talks with industry sources, as well as multiple rival executives, here's what I believe to be true as I type this right now...
- The Phillies are hellbent on signing Manny Machado or Harper. If they lose out on one, they'll push full throttle to sign the other.
- The Yankees are serious when saying they don't want Harper.
- The Dodgers and White Sox want Harper, but both are so far unwilling to offer only more than a seven-year deal. They'd actually prefer it be for less.
- The Nationals and Harper once discussed a 10-year deal worth more than $300 million. However, Harper was dissatisfied with how much money is backloaded and deferred beyond the 10th season, which is similar to how they structured Max Scherzer's current deal and their offer to Yoenis Cespedes a few years ago.
- The Cubs are out of spending money and will need to move a major contract to afford adding Harper, who entered this winter hoping to leave D.C. for either them, Los Angeles or New York.
It's also worth noting that by yesterday adding Brian Dozier, Washington has a pretty complete team and is under the luxury tax threshold for the first time in three years. However, by adding Harper, they find themselves with four starting outfielders, way over the luxury tax threshold and pushing a roughly $50 million fee accessed to their total payroll. So, while I'm sure they'd love to bring their prodigal son home, is he worth what would basically amount to an $80 million cost next season when they are already favored to win the division without him?
The buzz across baseball is that, while Harper very much wants a 10-year deal, it's more important to him and Scott Boras that he have multiple opt-out clauses and the highest average annual salary in baseball (no less than $34.5 million).
The way the Phillies have been talking, and the way people have been talking about them, I think the Phillies will meet his every wish, but only if they lose out on signing Machado.
If the Phillies do sign Machado, I hope the Mets realize they can wriggle in on talks with Harper if they're willing to do all of the above. If it's true that the Dodgers and White Sox are unwilling to go beyond seven years, and if the Yankees really aren't interested in him, and if the Nationals decide he isn't worth the full price to get him, or he passes on them backloading and deferring money, what are his options?
According to accounting by Cot's Baseball Contracts, Van Wagenen's 40-man roster payroll is around $175 million, which puts him still $30 million away from exceeding the year-one luxury tax. Remember, Bryce wants to have the most lucrative average annual salary. And, while he's clearly adversed to a lot of deferred and backloaded money, I'm sure he'd take less if just the next two years.
The point is, if he's allowed to do it, Van Wagenen should be able to afford Harper and remain under the the luxury tax, so long as he gives him an opt out or two and pays him an average salary of $35 million. This becomes more possible if Van Wagenen can find a taker for Juan Lagares and/or Todd Frazier, even if it means eating some of their salary.
So, I should be rooting for the Phillies to sign Machado?
Yes, which is a difficult pill to swallow, especially if then the Nationals do move money forward, bite the luxury tax bullet and ink Harper. In this scenario, Mets fans will be screaming, so signing A.J. Pollock might need to happen, but that's only possible if he doesn't first go to the Braves, who have interest.
Van Wagenen essentially said last month that he and his staff felt the Mets were the best team in the division. This statement is not even close to true if his top three rivals each sign the three best remaining position players on the market. On the other hand, he can bolster his statement and weaken a rival or two by jumping the line to steal Harper.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!