Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper

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Bernstein: Amid Slow Start, Harper Worth The Money

Bryce Harper is performing at a rate nearly commensurate with his annual price.

Dan Bernstein
May 22, 2019 - 2:24 pm
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(670 The Score) It's not the ideal way to begin the first year of 13 that will pay Bryce Harper a guaranteed total of $330 million through 2031.

The new Phillie is out of the gate with rate stats of .224/.360/.454 and a wRC+ of just 118 that indicates he's only 18 percent better than an MLB average hitter to this point. His fWAR of 1.5 is buoyed by positive contributions as a baserunner and fielder, ranking 35th between Yasmani Grandal and Rafael Devers. That's not terrible by any stretch but is disappointing enough relative to expectations that we can envision those itching to point the finger and call out an example of the risky business of superstar free agent mega-deals.

But that's a reach -- and not only because the Phillies have him for many more prime years of production well beyond just the first quarter of this one.

Harper even at just this isn't far off from a pace that actually works out to his annual contractual price. Fangraphs.com values a win in 2019 at $7.8 million of open market money, so he already has given them $11.7 million worth of production. He was a 3.5-win player for the Nationals in 2018, and even just replicating that performance would now be worth $27.3 million. What's his salary this year?  

That would be $27,538,461, the same as it will be through 2028, before it drops $4 million lower for the final three years.

There's every reason to expect Harper reasonably to have one or more seasons that blow that value out of the water, but it's important to realize that inflation will make the contract look considerably better over time even if he produces at his current rate.

An owner elsewhere happy to be one of the low-payroll grifters avoiding veteran free agents probably can't wait for the chance to exemplify profligate spending as the wrong path, justifying lower risk and padded coffers. That becomes harder to do when the truth of deals like this one become clearer, however.

On the other side, a union that has seen the middle class of older free agents all but disappear under contractual-control skulduggery, the arbitration system and team-friendly extension offers would be wise to keep reminding us how much sense it makes to spend for wins, particularly when the chance exists for something close to a sure thing. The same goes for Manny Machado, who's rolling at a wRC+ of 117 and an fWAR of 1.4, having put up $11.2 million in value. To get to his $30 million average annual value, he must only get to 3.9 wins this year and fewer than that each year into the deal as the cost of a win goes up.

Easy as it may be to pin one agenda or another to the fortunes of Harper or any of the latest wealthy stars, it's wiser to see what teams really get for their money.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​​​