The Chicago White Sox are going all in on signing Bryce Harper, reportedly being willing to guarantee the slugger a decade-long deal.
Even though the Chicago White Sox are one of the finalists for one of this winter’s biggest free agent prizes, the team is already making a push for another.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, just three MLB teams are willing to guarantee the former NL MVP a contract of at least 10 years: the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, and the White Sox. While other teams are surely interested in Harper, those three clubs are looking to separate themselves from the pack by being willing to commit to the 26-year old slugger for the next decade.
It’s important to note that following the report that the Sox were one of the teams willing to go to a decade-long deal, Bruce Levine reported that according to a high ranking industry source, those reports are completely untrue. But let’s assume that the initial report is true. Is committing what will surely be $300+ million to a single player for the next 10 years a smart move? Absolutely it is.
Harper is a league-altering player. He’s had an inconsistent career to this point, but his skill level is one of the highest in the game. An opportunity to sign a free agent with the ability of Harper doesn’t come along often, especially one who still hasn’t entered the prime years of his career.
White Sox fans have a legitimate reason to be worried though, simply because of the recent history of such contracts. Notably, Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano are signed through 2021 and 2023, respectively, and have seen their production dip considerably since inking their 10-year contracts.
Similar deals will hamper teams for years. Do you think the Detroit Tigers are happy with Miguel Cabrera‘s contract that extends for four more seasons? What about the Baltimore Orioles and Chris Davis?
Even surefire Hall of Famers like Pujols and Cabrera have declined to a point where their salary is so damaging to their team’s success that even when they can stay healthy and produce at the plate, their overall value to the team is negative.
What does Harper have going for him that the other players didn’t? His youth.
Because Harper entered the league at such a young age, the back end of a decade-long contract shouldn’t be too ugly. The deal would end just as Harper reached his 36th birthday on October 16th, 2028.
Although he’s a seven-year veteran, Harper is still just 26 years old. All four of the previously mentioned players – Pujols, Cano, Cabrera, and Davis – were all at least 30-years-old at the start of their contracts.
A ten-year deal for Harper carries considerably less risk, aside from unpredictable injuries. If he’s signed through 2028, the White Sox should get at least six productive years from Harper before beginning to see a notable decline.
Every player is different, but it doesn’t seem too bold to assume that a premier talent like Harper will be able to produce All-Star caliber numbers at the plate until at least his early-30s.
As far fielding goes, Harper will be able to shift to left field or first base if needed, or simply become a designated hitter if his fielding skills decline that far – a luxury the other two teams willing to guarantee Harper 10 years don’t have.
The only other real argument against giving Harper so much money is his lack of consistency at the plate.
The most notable of Harper’s seasons is, of course, his 2015 MVP year when he batted .330/.460/.649. His 1.109 OPS that year was just the third time a player posted an OPS of at least 1.100 since Barry Bonds retired (the other two were Pujols in 2008 and 2009).
If we remove that phenomenal 2015 campaign from his career numbers, Harper is still a .269/.373/.487 career hitter in his six other seasons. If that’s Harper’s average batting line in his non-MVP seasons, I’d take that in a heartbeat. Let’s not forget that he also brings the ability to get even better or once again post one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent memory.
A decade-long commitment certainly comes with risks, but at his age and with his skillset, the White Sox would be amiss to not offer Harper a 10-year deal and do all they can to bring the six-time All-Star to the South Side of Chicago.