The Price for Bryce

Ron Chenoy/USA Today

By: Chad Berman and Alex Pacione

Vapid bro or one of the best players in Major League Baseball?

Jonathan Papelbon’s personal punching bag or the next Mickey Mantle?

Overhyped superstar or destroyer of “clown questions” since 1992?

With the above, we can only be referring to one man.

With Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper set to become a free agent in 2019, The Joint Operation figured we’d get a three-year head start on the competition in analyzing what will assuredly be one of—if not the—most lucrative MLB contract of all time.

Harper made headlines prior to the 2016 season when he was asked on 106.7 The Fan in Washington if he expects to sign the first $400 million contract. Forever a case study in humility, his response was quintessential Bryce Harper: “Don’t sell me short. That’s what you’re doing right now to me, so don’t do that.” Perhaps the only man humbler than Harper is the wrinkled cinnamon stick currently running for president.

In fact, it seems Harper may already have a number in mind, as rumors have circulated that he could be looking for $40-$50 million per year over 15 years. That’s right, Harper could be looking for a deal worth up to $750 million dollars. With that kind of walking around money, he could buy any NHL team except for four of them. That’s 26 teams.

It is a ridiculous figure but fitting since Bryce Harper is a ridiculous person.

While we’ll concede that he had an absolutely insane 2015 season, batting .330 with 42 home runs, a .460 on-base percentage, .649 slugging percentage, 1.109 OPS, and WAR of 9.7, we’re not yet ready to crown him the Mother of Dragons.

Harper has been solid throughout the 2016 season, smacking 22 long balls and driving in 68 runs, but this campaign has paled in comparison to his Brobdingnagian 2015. He has not even approached the astronomical levels of his coming-out 2015 campaign, as he is hitting only .244 with a .385 OBP, .455 slugging percentage, and .840 OPS.

Additionally, in the month of July alone, Harper struggled mightily, effectively taking himself out of the MVP conversation. He hit just four home runs and his average was a dreadful .169. We have no idea why anyone would, but if someone were to put Harper’s July head-to-head against Philadelphia Phillie Ryan Howard’s entire season, it would make for a matchup closer than participants in a human centipede. His July rivals Howard’s comical-if-it-weren’t-actually-true season average of .198. While Harper’s season average of .244 is much better than that of Howard, at this point, we think that the 57-year-old Julio Franco—former Atlanta Brave, current player-coach in Japan, and near-future corpse—could outhit the geriatric Philadelphia slugger, so any comparison to Howard should be deeply unsettling for Harper.

Additionally, in his nearly five seasons in the majors, Harper holds a career .281 average, which suggests that his phenomenal 2015 season could end up being an outlier.

Despite Harper’s current struggles, we can’t deny the fact that the money truck is going to back into his living room. He indisputably adds immense value to the Nationals, a fact well-known to Harper and his agent, Scott Boras. Harper is making only $5 million dollars per year under his current contract, yet according to the site Fangraphs, his 2015 9.7 WAR translates to a single-season worth of about $75.4 million.

Adding more fuel to this overhyped grease fire is ESPN’s recently released #MLBRank, in which the site listed its top 100 players of all time. Most will agree that these days, ESPN primarily exists to serve as FAP material for LeBron James and Stephen Curry fans, but the following absurdity very well may be their piéce de résistance: the 23-year-old Harper, a veteran of all of five MLB seasons, was ranked 85th on ESPN’s list.

85th. In the history of baseball. Let that marinate for a second.

After one monster year, Harper is now ranked among the game’s legends, according to ESPN.

They must’ve conveniently forgotten that he is hitting .244 this year and .281 for his career.

Most sane people will agree that ESPN’s rank is laughable and that Harper hasn’t put up impressive numbers long enough or consistently enough to be considered one of the all-time greats—or that he has even been alive long enough to measure up to the game’s finest. These people would be correct.

Calling Bryce Harper one of the greatest baseball players of all time is like calling Donald Trump one of the greatest fascists of all time: Sure, he’s shown great promise, but there’s just not enough of a sample size to definitively come to that conclusion (Hopefully, whatever endangered species the Donald has been raising on his head for the past 70 years will awaken from its slumber and destroy him from within before we have the opportunity to see if he’ll go down in history as one of the all-time greats. Conversely, we look forward to Harper proving us wrong.)

If it were up to ESPN, Bryce Harper would be president. If it were also up to ESPN, Steph Curry would be founder Bill Rassmussen’s personal gimp. Therefore, we can take their #MLBRank with a grain of salt.

So what will Harper’s contract look like when 2019 rolls around?

Well, it all depends on which Harper shows up. Are pitchers starting to figure him out and is he having a tough time adjusting? Or will the Harper of 2015 return and justify the $400-500 million contract that many predicted he would get after last season?

Only time will tell. For now, we can all take solace in the absolute joke that ESPN has become.

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