Allow me to make a case for Bryce Harper in Boston. That’s right, I said it. Harper with the Red Sox.
As MLB free agency has begun, it was reported this week that the 26-year-old Harper turned down a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Washington Nationals late last season. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing that Scott Boras is his agent. But even if Boras wasn’t his agent, it only makes sense for Harper to test the free-agent market and see what’s out there.
That market will consist of the big-spenders, of course. Teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees, and well, yes, the Boston Red Sox.
The knee-jerk response to this would be, “Where’s he going to play, and how are you going to afford both Harper and Mookie Betts?”
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Betts made $10.5 million in 2018 and is arbitration eligible through the 2020 season. So the Red Sox don’t have to lock him up to a long-term deal just yet. Also, if Betts was smart, he’d wait it out just like Harper, because who knows what type of money will be thrown around in the winter of 2020-21.
As for where Harper would play in Boston, there’d obviously have to be a corresponding move somewhere. And that somewhere could be trading Jackie Bradley Jr. and moving Betts to center field, allowing Harper to play in his regular right-field spot.
The timing for a Bradley Jr. trade couldn’t make more sense. He’ll turn 29 in April and has one year of arbitration left on his deal, before becoming a free agent next winter. He won the ALCS MVP this past postseason, and with Boras as an agent, he’ll probably be looking for more money than the Red Sox will pay him into his 30’s.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has no choice but to look ahead, beyond the 2019 season, because there are plenty of decisions to be made. Like Bradley Jr., Chris Sale will also be a free agent next winter, as will Xander Bogaerts. And if J.D. Martinez hits 40 home runs again next season, he has the ability to opt out of his five-year, $110 million deal next winter and look for a higher annual salary.
It’s quite possible that the Red Sox could look like a completely different team in 2020. Making moves right now, in order to sign Harper this winter would make any upcoming roster subtractions much less painful.
But let’s say Dombrowski wanted to really get nuts this winter and free up some money, not only for Harper, but also for Sale, Bogaerts, and eventually, Betts. He could trade David Price, who — much like Bradley Jr. — will never have higher trade value than he does right now.
Price is 33 and should’ve been named the World Series MVP. He has the ability to opt out of his seven-year, $217 million contract this winter, but said he will not exercise that option. But what if he changes his mind once the champagne dries? Would the Red Sox be stuck with an unhappy Price making $31 million a season for four more seasons into his mid-30’s?
In his postgame press conference after the Red Sox won the World Series a week-and-a-half ago, Price said he holds the trump card now. Well, not really. He doesn’t have a no-trade clause, and if the Red Sox were ever going to move him, now would be the time.
Maybe they could package him with Bradley Jr. somehow. It would make signing Harper a whole lot easier, that’s for sure.
And if the Red Sox haven’t at least thought of ways to make a Harper signing work, they’re not doing their job.
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