Bryce Harper
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Bryce Harper wants to be a Yankee. Here’s how the front office can pull some strings to make that happen.

I never wanted the New York Yankees to pursue Bryce Harper in free agency.

Months ago, I even wrote a piece saying how re-signing Andrew McCutchen to a short-term contract was a better idea compared to giving Harper big money. Even with McCutchen now a Philadelphia Phillie, New York’s outfield is set enough that Harper isn’t a top priority.

Well, free agency has once again provided a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan. Joel Sherman of The New York Post reported earlier this week both Harper and Manny Machado preferred to play for the Yankees instead of Philadelphia. The Phillies have expressed strong interest in both, but those dreams could go up in smoke with New York in play.

Now I can only assume once Brian Cashman heard that, his reaction was something like this:

And who can blame him? It was reported early in the offseason Harper wasn’t even on New York’s radar. Now he expects the Yankees to make room for him just because he wants to wear pinstripes?

I still don’t want Harper on the team. I’m even lukewarm on the idea of signing Machado.

However, if Cashman were to make the following moves and then sign Harper, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Thus, as I scrub up and get ready to do some surgery as Dr. Trade, let’s dive right in!

Burying the Gardner

If Bryce Harper does become a Yankee, fixing the lineup is easy enough. Some fans won’t like it, but it’s the most practical move. Brett Gardner becomes the fourth outfielder.

The reasoning behind this is fairly simple. First, the Yankees already re-signed him to a one-year, $7.5 million deal for 2019. Second, Gardner has ten-and-five rights. That means because he has ten years of MLB service time, and five-plus have been spent with the Yankees, he can veto any trade.

Last, and most important of all, it’s probably best Gardner move to a reserve role. He can still grind out at-bats, but he clearly lost a step at the plate in 2018. He turned in a 2.5 WAR, so he’s still generally effective, but he hit just .236 on the year. This can be traced back to his line drive rate (LD%) dipping to 17.9 percent from 22.3 percent in 2017.

Granted, Gardner did post an OBP of .322, but the drop in LD% could signify a loss of bat speed. Gardner is also 35, so he’s running on borrowed time in New York regardless of a possible Harper signing.

Bryce Harper, on the other hand, is 26 and one of the top players in baseball. He himself only hit .249 in 2018, but also had 34 home runs with 100 RBI. Harper, though not a strong defender (0.9 career outfield UZR vs Gardner’s 92.2), can also play all three outfield positions along with Aaron Hicks. This makes things easier should Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both need a day off at the same time.

Some may not like seeing bumped to a reserve role, but it’s just the practical move in this case. There is also Clint Frazier to consider, but more about him later.

The key to Harper

This may sound crazy, but one man could be the key to New York landing Bryce Harper. That man is none other than Sonny Gray.

Before you get the straightjacket and ready the rubber room, hear me out. The sad truth is the Yankees aren’t going to get much for Gray. Cashman ensured that once he showed his hand and said the plan was to trade him this winter. It’s clear he’s desperate to unload him, so why should teams give up top prospects? After all, he did go 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA in 2018, so he’s basically a glorified reclamation project.

Now let’s talk about Clint Frazier again. He has a high ceiling and could be a five-tool outfielder, but he also missed a lot of 2018 with concussion symptoms. He has since resumed baseball activities, but concussions are tricky. There really is no indication of what to expect from Frazier come Spring Training.

That said, if Cashman is serious about trading Gray, he should consider pairing him with Frazier in any potential trade. It just so happens, according to MLB Insider Jon Morosi, the Milwaukee Brewers are indeed interested in Gray.

It’s that time, folks. Let’s build the trade!

Who goes where?

Consider this. If Sonny Gray were to remain with the Yankees in 2019, he’d probably just be a mop-up reliever and occasional spot starter. In terms of what arm(s) the Yankees get back from Milwaukee, this is the mold to consider.

Thus, Cashman should propose the following deal. Milwaukee gets Gray, Luis Cessa, and Frazier. Coming back to New York from Milwaukee would be the following: 19-year-old outfield prospect Je’Von Ward, and southpaw Brent Suter.

Ward can go right to the minors, but Suter is the more interesting piece. He is expected to miss most if not all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery in August, but adding him still makes sense.

That’s because though the 29-year-old Suter is an MLB pitcher, he really breaks the traditional mold. Per Fangraphs, his average fastball velocity for his career is at just 86 miles per hour. The Yankees’ pitching staff famously moved away from fastball use last year, but Suter’s lack of velocity and plus-control is significant enough to not really matter. He’s also a Harvard grad, so you know he’ll embrace the Yankees’ scientific approach.

Oh, and let’s not forget how Suter held his own against New York in a July 2017 game at Yankee Stadium.

Granted, Suter’s injury leaves the Yankees without a proper long relief option for 2019, but that’s fine. The bullpen is already strong and the team has enough depth in the minors to just use a rookie in that role. Fast forward to 2020 and Suter can compete with Jordan Montgomery for a spot in the rotation. Throw in that year being Suter’s first of arbitration eligibility, and it makes him a solid trade chip if he proves to be the odd man out.

Final thoughts

Realistically speaking, the odds of the New York Yankees signing Bryce Harper are slimmer than Olive Oyl. That means adding him would be so mind-blowing, New York City may black out again.

But that’s the mystique of Bryce Harper, Yankees fans. He isn’t a perfect fit. Not by a long shot. But if Cashman doesn’t even consider the possibilities of this deal, even just for a minute, he’d be cheating both himself and his team. It could net him not only Harper but, also a fine outfield prospect and solid pitcher. Yes, the Yankees wouldn’t get much back, but Cashman took that risk once he made clear Gray would be traded. He lost all leverage when he made that bed, and he’ll eventually have to sleep in it.

Bryce Harper can be a good fit in New York. It’s just a matter of if the front office is willing to do some extra work to make it happen.

Your move, Cashman.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.