John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Brian Cashman was just messing with everybody, especially Scott Boras, with his "Death Star" quote, right?
Then again, if the White Sox are the only team in hot pursuit of Bryce Harper, as some baseball people seem to think, maybe anything really is still possible as it pertains to his free agency.
Who knows? Cashman seemingly had done everything but submit to a lie-detector test to convince the world he has no interest in signing Harper, and then suddenly he was making a Star Wars reference that plays into the Yankees' Evil Empire image.
Of course, this was in response to Boras essentially saying that nobody should actually believe the Yankees have no interest in his client, and it may be that Cashman couldn't resist the opportunity to play along.
"I don't have any reaction other than to say we try to promote that we are progressive and open-minded operation," he said, "and that every day is different, that we are prepared to pivot and react if things change, if the rosters adjust.
"If something doesn't make sense today, it doesn't mean it won't make sense tomorrow. All I can tell you is where our current focuses are. But at the same time, we're a fully-functional Death Star."
Loosely translated, one could infer that he meant at any moment the Yankees might decide to use their super-galactic spending power to wipe out any advantage the Red Sox have at the moment, by signing Harper and maybe Manny Machado too.
It's become something of a cliché to say that with the Yankees you never know, but in truth it's hard to know if these are the same Yankees that surprised everyone by signing Mark Teixeira 10 years ago after insisting they weren't interested.
Boras himself cited that example this week as a way of reminding everyone that Cashman could be lying in the weeds on Harper, waiting to pounce when he sensed the time was right.
In more recent times, however, Hal Steinbrenner has proven willing to endure a sell-off and a rebuild, as quick as it proved to be, in the interest of getting the payroll under the luxury tax threshold and developing young talent that would allow the Yankees to win without outspending the rest of baseball.
Now we are in the process of finding out just how disciplined he'll be after the hated Red Sox whipped his team in the ALDS and won another championship.
Indeed, if you're keeping score on championship trophies, it's now 4-1 Sox over the last 15 seasons, or since the infamous 2004 ALCS.
The roles have reversed on the financial side as well, with the Sox giggling at the luxury tax while carrying a $230 million payroll last season, by far the highest in baseball.
With all of that in mind, the root of the speculation about Harper, as well as Machado, is whether Hal says enough is enough and reaches for his wallet.
There is no indication he has such an impetuous side, as did his late father, of course. And certainly there is an argument to be made for simply improving the starting rotation and otherwise staying the course with a team that won 100 games and simply got outplayed in a short playoff series.
As it is, if the Yankees are going to spend big, all indications are it would be for Machado, not Harper.
So what would it take for Cashman's "Death Star" quote to be more than a clever one-liner?
The logical answer would be the lack of a strong market for Harper that would allow the Yankees to dictate the terms, at least to some extent. And so far it does appear to be a slow-developing market, at the very least, especially if the Phillies are more interested in Machado, as many believe.
Furthermore, if Machado were to sign with the Phillies, that too could give the Yankees reason to reconsider their stance on Harper.
Finally, Harper's well-known desire to play in the Bronx as a latter-day Mickey Mantle, his father's idol, might have to be a factor as well.
If, then, for example, Harper would sign, say, a five-year deal at $40 million a year, as opposed to a 10-year deal at $33 million per, then maybe the Yankees would think it worthwhile to squeeze him into the outfield/DH mix along with Giancarlo Stanton, even if it meant casting Brett Gardner aside.
The problem with that scenario is everyone in baseball seems convinced that both Boras and Harper are determined to sign the richest contract in baseball history.
If that means signing with the White Sox, who still have miles to go to finish off their rebuild, well, you may be remember that Boras once landed Alex Rodriguez with a Rangers' team that was immediately hamstrung by the size of the 10-year, $252 million contract.
So unless Harper decides that a winning legacy is more important than the size of the contract, it's hard to see the Yankees finding a reason to pursue him.
Cashman's Death Star analogy notwithstanding.