Three years ago, the Yankees’ plan was to get under the luxury tax threshold with the hope of making a big splash in this year’s free agent market, particularly with the notion of signing either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The era of the “Core Four” was over and the Yankees wanted to move forward with the idea of putting together a team before they could make a big splash in free agency.
The idea was to build a contending team that would be attractive to one of those big name free agents.
The contending part was coming along nicely thanks to the emergence of stars like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. A couple of shrewd trades set the Yankees up to use their financial might but those plans were squashed when the Yankees brought in Giancarlo Stanton last off season. At the time, I felt the Yankees really didn’t need Stanton because they added to an already abundant amount of right handed power bats.
The Yankees had the most potent left handed bat on the free agent market practically begging them to make an offer, yet they did not show any interest, which I find bewildering. The Yankees can claim to be satisfied with their offense the way it is structured right now, but the bottom line, who is the left handed impact bat in their lineup that will offer protection for Aaron Judge and Stanton and who would strike fear into an opposing pitcher.
Harper got his deal, 13 years, $335 million dollars from the Phillies, a team that had “stupid money” to spend. Harper had made it clear that he wanted to join the Yankees and I would not have given him 13-years, but I don’t think it would’ve taken the deal that he got from Philadelphia to lure him to the Bronx. The Yankees couldn’t get creative and make a 5-year, $175 million dollar deal. That would’ve made Harper the highest paid player in AAV. (Average Annual Value) If he turned it down, okay, but at least make an inquiry. I don’t get the resistance.
You can certainly make the case that Judge is the better player, but that doesn’t mean that Harper is not an elite player who conceivably could’ve been signed to play left field. Don’t you think Harper is better than any left fielder who is currently on the Yankee roster?
According to a report from SNY’s Andy Martino, the Yankees had concerns about Harper’s defense and his offensive inconsistency. I don’t see how Harper has been offensively inconsistent. Just because you have a “down season,” it doesn’t mean you’re an inconsistent offensive player.
I have to admit that I am surprised at how Harper is viewed among baseball types. Going into last season, Sports Illustrated listed Harper as the 12th best player in baseball. Mike Trout is the consensus #1 but can you name 10 other players who are better than Harper. The cynics cite Harper’s batting average in two of the last three seasons (.243 and .249) I thought batting average wasn’t that important in today’s game that favors on base percentage more.
Aaron Hicks hit .248 with 90 walks in 2018 and is considered to have had a very good season that helped him land a seven year extension. Even after a .249 season last year, Harper still has a lifetime .279 average and walks a lot more than Hicks who is praised for his on base skills. Harper also had a .393 OBP with 130 walks last season and has a .388 career on base percentage.
I know where that narrative on Harper’s defense comes from, those ridiculous defensive metrics. Harper may have had some problems in center field last season but remember, he hasn’t played that position a whole lot at the Major League level. Harper can run down balls in the outfield and has a very good arm. Harper’s assist totals have dropped off because opposing teams don’t challenge him as much. The 26-year old is an athlete and is being undervalued as an elite player.
The Red Sox just breathed a sigh of relief. What do you think the reaction would’ve been in Boston had the Yankees signed Harper? Harper in-between Judge and Stanton. That would’ve sent a ripple through Kenmore Square and the entire American League. The Red Sox were concerned that Harper would end up in Pinstripes.
So how does Harper’s signing affect the Mets? Not a whole lot.
The Mets have been dealing with Harper in their division since he debuted in 2012. The Mets would’ve liked to have seen the former NL MVP sign with a team outside the Division but so be it, they’ll deal with it as they have in the past and won’t back down.
Harper and the Phillies are going to be under enormous pressure to win. Many observers feel Washington may even be a better team without Harper (we’ll see about that) and the defending champion Braves have more young talent coming, although there’s a chance there could be a drop off in Atlanta.
All things being equal, the Mets edge out the Nationals by a slight margin for the best starting rotation in the NL East. If the bullpen performs as expected, the Mets can probably boast of the best overall staff in the Division.
The Mets project to have the third or fourth best lineup in the NL East but that could change as the season goes along. One key will be the development of shortstop Amed Rosario who could bring a dynamic presence to the top of the lineup. I wouldn’t be concerned about his lack of plate discipline because young players experience that and do get better.
If the Mets are contending for the Division title as planned, they will need to make a move or two by the trade deadline to enhance their chances. Brodie Van Wagenen just completed his first off season as a General Manager. The trade deadline will provide a whole new challenge for the new GM.
Harper and the Phillies are now the favorites with the Nationals, Braves and Mets close behind. As long as their pitching stays healthy, the Mets will be a factor, no matter what the opposition does.
Speaking of the opposition, I’m hearing the Braves are considering taking a run at free agent left hander Dallas Keuchel. Atlanta is concerned about the health of a couple of their young pitchers, Mike Soroka and Mike Foltynewicz.
LAST LICKS: Have you heard this assessment being tossed around. “The Yankees and the Red Sox are the two best teams in baseball.” That may be true but don’t overlook the Astros. Houston is two years removed from a World Championship and they still have the best infield in baseball…..Tough break for Royals catcher Salvador Perez who will need Tommy John surgery on his elbow and could be out for the entire season. Reportedly, Kansas City has already been in touch with free agent catcher Martin Maldonado and may be looking to deal for a backstop. Did anyone say Travis d’Arnaud…..Craig Kimbrel is still not signed. With pitchers needing more time than everyday players to get ready for the season, time is running short on the All Star closer. A little birdie told me the Mets (even after acquiring Edwin Diaz) Red Sox (they wanted him back) and Yankees were showing serious interest in signing the 7-time All Star closer for the right price. Kimbrel’s stock dropped a bit off of his poor post season showing but he continues to hold out for a number that may not be out there. Don’t be shocked if Kimbrel ends up back with the Red Sox.