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Yankees are still the best fit for Harper

February 2, 2019

Here is something Scott Boras said about his client, Bryce Harper:"Well, certainly 'Harper's Bazaar' has begun. It's fashionable. It's historical. It's elite. It's global, certainly. It's a process that's unconventional, because you're dealing with a generational player. He holds the qualities of elite performance, of the youngest age 26] for

Here is something Scott Boras said about his client, Bryce Harper:
"Well, certainly 'Harper's Bazaar' has begun. It's fashionable. It's historical. It's elite. It's global, certainly. It's a process that's unconventional, because you're dealing with a generational player. He holds the qualities of elite performance, of the youngest age [26] for a free agent in history to be available to the greatest number of elite teams."
Boras made those comments in early November. Now, it is early February -- and what his agent called "Harper's Bazaar," after getting a case of the cutes, continues. There is still a fair debate to be had about whether or not Harper -- for all of his talent, flair and youth -- is actually a generational player, just going off the numbers he has put into the books so far.
But one thing has not changed as "Harper's Bazaar" has played out, and it is not debatable: The elite team where he should end up is the Yankees.
Harper would not bring the same resume to the Yankees that Reggie Jackson did back in 1977. By the time Reggie got to the old Yankee Stadium for the start of the '77 season, he was 30 years old and had played nine full seasons in the big leagues, compared to the seven Harper has played already. Jackson also had bigger home run years than Harper has had, bigger RBI years, and was a bigger baseball star. Nobody was calling Reggie a generational player back in those days. But he was that kind of player, and had already played on three World Series winners in Oakland.
Reggie brought a left-handed bat to the Yankees, as well as flair and swagger -- the same as Harper would now, though it is unlikely he would bring the same kind of noise with him to New York that Jackson did. The year before Reggie arrived in the big, bad city, the Yankees made their first World Series appearance in 12 years, getting swept by the Reds. Jackson, the self-proclaimed "straw that stirs the drink" (it turned out he was telling the truth), and the Yankees won the next two World Series and played in one more while he was with the team.
"Right guy, right team, right time, right place," Reggie told me once.
Now, the Yankees are coming off a 100-win regular season and a loss in the playoffs to the Red Sox, the team that won it all. They have added starting pitching to last year's roster, plus even more relief pitching than they had when people thought they had the best relief corps. They still have Aaron Judge. They still have Giancarlo Stanton. Maybe, after hitting all those home runs last season (a record 267), they think they have enough stick to get past the Red Sox this season. Maybe they do.

Of course, you can't have any conversation about the makeup of the current Yankee roster without talking about Stanton. The Yankees traded for him last year, following a 59-homer MVP campaign for Miami. They got him for practically nothing, in terms of talent, because they also picked up the rest of the 13-year, $325 million contract Stanton signed with the Marlins after the 2014 season.
And guess what? Despite how poorly Stanton hit in the postseason -- the place where the Yankees are still judged, even if they haven't won a World Series since 2009 -- he had pretty much the same season in New York that Harper had with the Nationals in his walk year. Stanton hit 38 homers, knocked in 100 runs, batted .266, had a slugging percentage of .509, an on-base percentage of .343, and an .852 OPS. Harper hit 34 homers, drove in 100 runs himself, batted .249 after a bad start, had a slugging percentage of .496, an on-base percentage of .393, and an .889 OPS. He walked a lot more. Stanton struck out a lot more. But when you look at both stat lines, it's pretty much a push. Since the Yankees have a DH slot, it would be easy to rotate Harper, Judge, and Stanton between the outfield corners and DH -- perhaps even keeping them healthier that way.
Harper, who loved the Yankees as a kid, is still a better fit in the Bronx. He would be a left-handed hitter in a ballpark, the new Yankee Stadium, with a right-field wall that looks closer than the one in Williamsport, Pa., does to Little Leaguers. He'll never have Reggie's home-run ability to create headlines and controversies, it's not who he is. But I believe the Yankees, their ballpark, the stage and the city suit him better than they ever will Stanton. I also continue to believe if the Yankees had just waited -- and passed on Stanton last winter -- that "Harper's Bazaar" would long be over by now and he would already be a Yankee.
I believe Harper would hit more home runs playing half his games at the Stadium than he would back in Washington or someplace else like Philadelphia, the South Side of Chicago or San Diego. I know the Yankees probably need Manny Machado more, at least in the short run, because shortstop Didi Gregorius is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Everybody knows that, the same way everybody knows adding Harper's contract to the current Yankee payroll would force them to pay the luxury tax.
But Harper at this stage in his career, with the brand he has established for himself already, is made for the Yankees the way Reggie once was, back in another baseball time when the Yankees were knocking on the door and George Steinbrenner was calling the shots. It probably won't happen, but maybe it still can. It should have happened already. Right guy, right team, right place.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.