Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper is a hot topic this winter. The five-time all-star and 2015 NL MVP — earned during a season in which he turned in one of the best performances of all time — has just one year remaining until free agency, making him the most intriguing player of the 2018 free agent class.
A talent like Harper doesn’t hit the market often. Since entering the majors as a 19-year-old in 2012, he has batted .285 with an OPS of .902, creating runs at a rate that is 41 percent higher than the league average after accounting for league and park effects (141 wRC+), placing him 11th overall in that span. His 27.7 Wins Above Replacement, as calculated by FanGraphs.com, rank 10th, and that’s why it’s going to cost a king’s ransom to keep him in a Nationals uniform.
The price for Harper’s services is unknown at this point — his agent, Scott Boras, told reporters Wednesday there have been no discussions of an extension — but it will almost certainly be the largest in MLB history, surpassing the 13-year, $325 million contract Giancarlo Stanton signed with the Miami Marlins in 2014.
Heck, the Nationals could pay Harper $500 million over 10 years, and it would still be a good deal for them.
Steamer projections have Harper batting .302 with 36 home runs and 87 RBI in 138 games during the 2018 season, producing 5.8 WAR, an improvement over last season (4.8) but well shy of his peak in 2015 (9.5).
It was calculated in 2013 that one marginal win is worth $7 million, while FanGraphs assesses Harper’s 2017 campaign of 4.8 WAR to be worth $38.3 million on the open market, making it closer to $8 million per win in today’s free agent environment. If we use an aging curve that keeps Harper’s projected production steady until age 30, then subtract 0.25 WAR each year from ages 31 to 35, all while increasing the cost of a win in free agency by 5 percent each year, Harper would be worth almost $567 million through 2028. An aging curve consisting of players who have had similar careers through their age-24 season — a list that includes Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr. — has Harper worth $562 million from 2019 to 2028. If we use a more aggressive aging curve, one that keeps his production steady through 2020, his age-27 season, before seeing a 0.25 WAR decline each year over the next eight seasons, his estimated 10-year value as a free agent drops to $507 million.
And this doesn’t include any postseason production. That might be a sore subject among Nationals fans, but Harper did more than anyone on the roster to advance Washington’s playoff hopes: his 8.5 percent championship win probability added since 2012, a measure of how much a player influences a team’s chances to win a World Series, is a team high.
I get that $500 million is a lot of money, even in today’s free agent environment, but if there is a player worth that sort of investment, it’s a hitter like Harper.
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