This is as good a place as any to start a conversation about Bryce Harper and whether he might end up with the Yankees: I'll believe he's not going to end up with the Yanks when he signs with somebody else.We keep hearing about how Hal Steinbrenner wants to keep
This is as good a place as any to start a conversation about Bryce Harper and whether he might end up with the Yankees: I'll believe he's not going to end up with the Yanks when he signs with somebody else.
We keep hearing about how Hal Steinbrenner wants to keep the Yankees' payroll under the luxury tax threshold. We keep hearing that the Yanks can't sign Harper for 10 years or 12 years, or whatever it's going to take, because they traded for Giancarlo Stanton last year and, if Stanton doesn't opt out of his deal after the 2020 season (why in the world would he?), the Yankees are committed to Stanton for nine more years and around $250 million.
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But you have to understand something: If the Yankees think they can spend their way past the Boston Red Sox, they are going to do that.
If the Yankees ever could find a trade partner for Stanton, I believe they would move him, even if they had to eat some of original contract with the Marlins. There was a time 14 years ago, when the Rangers were so intent on trading Alex Rodriguez that they were willing to pay the Yanks $67 million of the $179 million left on Rodriguez's original $252 million contract. It doesn't mean the Yankees don't love Stanton after only having him for one year. They just have to know that they would love Harper more.
Now this doesn't mean that Harper will sign with the Yankees. It doesn't mean that they will give him a contract even longer than the one Stanton has, and they know the day when they're going to have to start paying big money to their other big guy, Aaron Judge, isn't all that far off. It also doesn't change the fact that the Yanks' outfield would get more crowded than the 4 train at rush hour if they can get Harper into pinstripes.
I just keep thinking that signing Harper as a free agent makes as much sense as signing Reggie Jackson did over 40 years ago. George Steinbrenner brought Reggie to New York City -- "I'm bringing my star with me," Reggie said -- and the Yankees promptly won their first World Series in 16 years. Harper might help them win their first World Series title in a decade, and only their second since 2000.
And you cannot overstate New York's current obsession with Boston, the same kind of obsession in this century that the Red Sox had about the Yankees in the last one. After the Yanks won their Subway Series against the Mets in 2000, the Sox won two Series before the Yankees won another one, in 2009. Now Boston has won two more since '09.
The Yankees have one true must-see, must-watch star on their roster. It is Judge, despite the home run numbers that Stanton has put into the books before the age of 30. Harper would be just as big a young star at the Stadium. I honestly believe that if general manager Brian Cashman hadn't made the trade for Stanton -- after the Yanks never really got into the game with Shohei Ohtani -- that Harper might have been a Yankee by Thanksgiving. And he still might be one by Christmas.
I talked to somebody the other day who has always had great sources within the Yankees organization, and he dismissed the idea that they were going to throw money at either Harper or Manny Machado, who would fill a more pressing and immediate need at shortstop, because Didi Gregorius is out for the 2019 season after Tommy John surgery.
"Not happening," he said.
There are all those reasons why the Yankees, starting with the financial ones, may ultimately decide not to get into the game with Harper. Whatever Cashman says, there has to be at least some buyer's remorse on Stanton, despite the fact that he hit 38 home runs and knocked in 100 in his first season as a Yankee. Or maybe in the end, Cashman and Steinbrenner will decide that the chance to put Harper in the same batting order with Judge and Stanton would give the Yanks the most dangerous batting order in their history.
The other day, Cashman was on MLB Network Radio talking about the possibility, floated by Harper's agent, Scott Boras, of his client becoming a first baseman in New York.
"People have talked about Bryce Harper being able to play first base, I don't know if he can or can't," Cashman said. "I know he's very athletic, but that's not necessarily a bet I would recommend placing with the amount of money he's expected to get."
The number that still matters most with Harper isn't $400 million, or whatever it will take some team to sign him. The number that still matters the most is that Harper didn't turn 26 until October. Do the Yankees ("There's money, and then there's Yankee money," another owner once said) really let him go play baseball somewhere else over the next decade because of money?
Harper is the kind of star the Yankees have always gone for, all the way back to Babe Ruth. He is made for them and they are made for him. One last time: I'll believe the Yanks pass on Harper when they actually do.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.