White Sox: What Bryce Harper chase says about their timeline

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Business is picking up for the Chicago White Sox. Their pursuit of Bryce Harper tells you a lot about the next three years.

There are tons of reasons the Chicago White Sox would want to sign Bryce Harper. The biggest is they have vacancies in the outfield, even with Eloy Jimenez on his way next season, so why not fill it with the best available?

After a couple seasons of a rebuild that’s shown hope but barely any excitement on the field, why not juice your fanbase by getting the shiniest piece in the store? The Sox always need to sell tickets. No one is going to do that more than Harper his offseason.

And it doesn’t hurt to goose the other fandom in town after it was a foregone conclusion for so long that Harper would end up in blue pinstripes, especially how that still tickles Sox fans in places they blush about.

What better way to tell your team you think they’re close by aiding them with a perennial All-Star who provides more than just a little swagger to the clubhouse? If you’ve got the money.

And it’s that last part that’s intriguing because a Harper contract is not going to look like what it says it does on the surface. And that tells you a lot about what the Sox think their next three years could look like.

It’s vital to remember that the current MLB CBA runs through the 2021 season. That’s three seasons from now. And given how last offseason went for a lot of veterans, and how this one might be poised to do the same, and every club treating the luxury tax thresholds as hard salary caps, you can be sure the players’ union is going to fight for either a major raise of that tax threshold or an abolition of it altogether.

And they very well may get it. Which means there’s going to be more money available at the top of the food chain for players. Players like Harper.

Which is why you can be sure that Harper’s contract, no matter the ridiculous salary at the front of it, is going to include opt-outs after the 2021 season. At that point, Harper will still only be 29, an age when most players hit free agency for the first time. This will be his second-go, and still very much in his prime.

So even if any team throws $35 or $40 million per season at Harper to start the contract he gets this winter, he and his agent Scott Boras might think he could get even more in a looser financial system in the winter of 2021-2022. You know that’s what they’ll be pushing for.

And even if it’s a harsher economic environment, Harper wouldn’t have to use that opt-out.

But if you’re the team signing him, you have to plan for him doing so. Which means the White Sox think not only that they’ll improve, but that they’re ready to ascend to the top of the AL Central. Otherwise, why would you shell out over $100 million in three years to watch Harper leave and be left with a couple of second-place finishes? That doesn’t make any sense.

And there’s really no reason for the Sox to not think that. Cleveland is already crying “poor” and whispering about moving pieces along like Cory Kluber or Carlos Carrasco. Whatever their financial situation actually is, we know they won’t be going full-out in the payroll department. Their era may be capped.

The Royals and Tigers are at the very beginning of rebuilds and are years away. The Twins can’t ever seem to escape the wood-chipper (Minnesota joke there for ya). There could not be a more open field than the AL Central.

Next. Confusion surrounds Bryce Harper situation. dark

Next year seems a bit early for the Sox. Without Michael Kopech, they’re short on pitching, even if Dylan Cease or Dane Dunning can come up midseason by rocketing through Triple-A. They still need a turnaround from Yoan Moncada, even if Eloy and Harper are bombing away from the outfield. It might not take more than 85 or 86 wins to contend in the Central, but the map for the Sox to get there in 2019 is rife with detours.

But after that, when Kopech is back and Cease and Dunning are properly seasoned? Should be all systems go. But is two years of Harper worth that? That might be all you get before either giving him a raise from an already astronomical salary or watching him walk. The Sox apparently think so. And those two years could be remarkably easy saunters out of the division and into the playoffs, so you get why.