With each passing day, multiple rumors abound around the two generational talents who just happen to be free agents, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. One day has the Philadelphia Phillies with the edge to win Machado, the next day the Chicago White Sox — and who knows what the New York Yankees are doing with all the infielders they’ve already signed. A similar story applies to Harper, who perhaps has more suitors, including the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, with even the cash-strapped Cubs trying to shoehorn into the discussions.
What would it take to beat out those deeper-pocketed teams and win the services of Machado and/or Harper? Let’s take a look at both players individually, to come up with some sort of package.
Machado is just 26. To put that in perspective, White Sox prospect Jordan Stephens is just two months younger than Machado. During his seven-year career, the slugger has slashed .282/.335/.487 with a total of 175 homers, 211 doubles, 12 triples, 513 RBIs, 53 stolen bases, two Gold Gloves, and a 33.8 bWAR. Last year combined with the Baltimore Orioles and Dodgers, he produced a 5.7 bWAR, slashing .297/.367/.538 with 37 homers, 35 doubles, three triples, 107 RBIs, 70 walks and 104 strikeouts while stealing 14-of-16 bases. On top of that, Machado played a good shortstop and an exceptional third base. Due to his being traded during his free agency season, Machado was not given a qualifying offer, which means the White Sox wouldn’t have to relinquish a draft pick and subsequent compensation to the Dodgers for signing him.
Rumors have placed the Phillies and White Sox offers around $200 million, perhaps slightly over. The Yankees, frankly, are running out of uniforms. Machado’s agent has stated that he’s still seeing $300 million guaranteed — but is that reasonable, or likely? Judging by Machado’s bWAR over the past few seasons, it certainly is. Without a doubt, the Phillies and White Sox initial offers were relatively low; they both may have to step up their game in order to avoid perhaps a surprise entrant spoiling things in the end.
With an eye toward bidding actually getting competitive, here’s my Machado proposal, which is a bit lower than what was in my original offseason plan. Because Machado is only 26, I certainly wouldn’t have any issue offering a 10-year contract at $30 million per year. I’d front-load the contract a bit so Machado gets paid more while in his peak years — something like $32 million in the first five years, and $28 million in the last five. This would work for the Sox, since they have so little money on their books presently. I’d offer a player opt-out in the fifth and eighth years, which would still guarantee that Machado would be a significant part of the White Sox contention window. This would also be a vested contract, so that for every year he makes the top-five in MVP voting, he’d have an additional year at $30 million added onto his contract. Finally, he would receive incentives for Gold Glove (at third base) and World Series MVP awards. The Gold Glove incentives actually may entice Machado to want to play the hot corner for the White Sox.
Is this a vast overpay? Yes — at the moment, considering the few teams actually interested in his services. If nothing changes, the White Sox could actually be outbidding themselves by upping any offer. But if Philadelphia starts to drop some of that “stupid money,” would Machado be worth 10/300-plus? Yes. Machado is a terrific offensive and defensive threat who actually seems to be getting better with each year — especially concerning his plate discipline. Getting Machado would legitimize the White Sox rebuild and put the team back on the map — and that makes the team more relevant for free agents in future years.
Like Machado, Harper is just 26 (Harper is actually a month younger than Stephens). Since Harper’s rookie season in 2012, he’s slashed .279/.388/.512 with 184 homers, 183 doubles, 18 triples, 585 walks, 834 strikeouts, 75 stolen bases and 27.4 bWAR, and has captured the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. After a difficult start to the 2018 campaign, Harper righted the ship somewhat by slashing .249/.393/.496 with 34 doubles, 34 homers, 100 RBIs and stealing 13-of-16 bases. Though his career bWAR is well below Machado’s, his total fWAR to date is slightly higher (30.7, compared to Machado’s 30.2).
My Harper proposal would be similar to Machado’s: $300 million over 10 years, with a slight front-load during the first five years. Because the White Sox presently have greater depth in the outfield than at third base, I could live with an earlier opt-out in Harper’s case: I’d offer him opt-outs during his fourth and seventh seasons. Because he hasn’t been as consistent during his career as Machado has, I’m not offering the vesting options to Harper. However, I’d be happy to add monetary incentives for top-five MVP finishes, in addition to additional significant incentives if the White Sox draw 2.5 million fans to Guaranteed Rate Field.
Would this be an overpay? Probably yes, and the same caveats apply regarding competing bids (although, if reports are to be believed, Harper has been offered 10/300 (give or take) from his current team, the Nationals). But to give him the benefit of the doubt, Harper does have a nearly identical fWAR to Machado. Because there are more teams interested in Harper’s services, with the Nationals currently at the forefront, the White Sox may have to extend themselves a bit in order to sign him — and that additionally makes Machado a more enticing prospect.
While based on this year’s results, my contract for Harper would be an overpay, the excitement he’d provide the fan base due to his performance and personality, he’d likely bring more people to the stadium. With earlier opt-outs, the White Sox may end up avoiding extra risk if Harper decides to take his talents elsewhere. I am unwilling to vest his contract beyond 10 years, due to greater long-term concerns about his defense, injuries and consistency when compared to Machado.
The White Sox would have to relinquish their second round pick to the Nationals, plus international bonus pool money, but securing Harper is worth such losses.
In the end, most White Sox fans would be ecstatic if the Sox attained either Harper or Machado. If they were able to acquire both, it would be sheer pandemonium. We’d be adding a lot of homers, walks, charisma and defense (as long as Harper doesn’t play center) to Guaranteed Rate Field. The next focus would have to adding a catcher for 2020 (i.e. Yasmani Grandal) and starting pitchers (either from our system or trades/free agency) going forward, to make this squad a true contender beginning in 2020.