Much to #YankeesTwitter’s chagrin, it didn’t happen. Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million megadeal with the Philadelphia Phillies. It took a few years to add some talent around him, but the Phils are the defending National League Champions and two wins away from a second straight World Series.
The Yankees, on the other hand, still haven’t been to the Fall Classic since 2009. And social media hasn’t quieted down since. It’s gotten worse with Harper leading the Phillies with a certain “Eff-You” energy. He’s batting .385 in the playoffs with four tape-measure home runs.
Brian Cashman when future HOF, legendary left-handed power-hitter entering his prime Bryce Harper was a free agent and was explicitly begging to be a Yankee. pic.twitter.com/P5I2pLnj4u
— Rit Holtzman (@BenRitholtzNBA) October 17, 2023
— WFAN Sports Radio (@WFAN660) October 12, 2023
BRYCE HARPER IS WILD MAN IN THE POSTSEASON THE GUY IS BUILT FOR THIS STAGE SOMETHING THE YANKEES COULD OF HAD!!!
— Big Nick Turturro (@NickTurturro1) October 12, 2023
So you know what? Let’s do it. Let’s do a sequel to the “Alex Rodriguez was never a Yankee” piece and talk about what would have happened if Bryce Harper was a Yankee. This won’t be as deep a historical dive, nor a detailed season by season recap, but more a hypothetical roster prediction.
We’ll establish that the contract does not change. Brian Cashman approaches Hal Steinbrenner in early 2019 and says it’s 13 years at $330 million, or no Harper. Since Hal has final say on these sorts of decisions and doesn’t actually give Cashman a carte blanche (Yes, I’m serious), he approves it. Cue the clean-shaven press conference with jersey number 34.
And by the numbers, Bryce Harper would have thrived in New York. Yankee Stadium’s short porches in both left and right mean he’d average about 30ish home runs a year, maybe more in select seasons. Paired with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, this truly is a Murderer’s Row 2.0.
We can play what-ifs with the rest of the lineup too, plus Stanton’s automatic IL stints, but I digress. Now that the Yankees have Harper’s big contract on the payroll, plus Stanton’s, and now Aaron Hicks’ extension before spring training, that’s a lot of money!
But just a quick aside for argument’s sake, the Yankees win the 2019 World Series with Bryce Harper batting third and playing left field. Remember, New York’s pitching staff was banged up and team ERA was 14th in baseball. Having one extra bat in the ALCS is just enough, and a motivated Harper carries them past his former Washington Nationals.
After the Canyon of Heroes is cleaned up and the dust settles, it’s offseason time! And the Yankees need pitching if they’re going to get back to the World Series. Gerrit Cole is the big name on the market and he’s Cashman’s “white whale,” so he’s the one, right?
Sorry, folks, but that’s not happening. With Bryce Harper on the books, there’s no way Hal Steinbrenner would have approved yet another big contract. Not at the nine years and $324 million Cole got from the Yankees in real life. Stephen Strasburg isn’t happening either, for both money and eventual health reasons.
More likely is the Yankees would have gone one of two ways: Overpay Zach Wheeler by a smidge, or pursue one of the myriad journeymen starters on the market on short-term deals. Let’s say Rick Porcello or Wade Miley, in this case. This probably provides an avenue to re-sign Masahiro Tanaka after 2020 as well.
But what about years down the road? Do the Yankees follow through with developing Anthony Volpe at shortstop, or do they trade him for pitching after Harper pushes Cashman to sign his buddy Trea Turner? He got 11 years and $300 million from the Phillies, so New York probably gives him something similar.
And in turn, what does that mean for Aaron Judge’s future in pinstripes? Remember, Hicks and his albatross deal are still on the payroll. Is Hal Steinbrenner going to commit to another big hitting contract, namely nine years and $360 million?
Of course he isn’t because all this time, with no Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ pitching is desperate. Cashman and Matt Blake can only work so much magic. Luis Severino is still constantly injured. The top of the rotation is carried by: Jordan Montgomery, recent trade acquisition Jameson Taillon, and prospects/journeymen. This means pursuing pitching in free agency, like Kevin Gausman or even Justin Verlander.
The only other option is to gut the farm system and trade for a bunch of arms, never Cashman’s style.
Regardless, it’s pretty clear that any benefits of the Yankees signing Bryce Harper would have been short-term. The lineup would be strong enough to keep the Yankees in contention, but at the expense of the pitching staff. Pretty much the reverse of their situation today.
Bryce Harper grew up a Yankees fan and watching him don the pinstripes and retire a Bronx Bomber would have been great. Unfortunately, it would prove to be little more than an unexpected and ultimately disappointing Dave Winfield sequel.
Well, at least his contract was only for 10 years and $3.1 million?