The Decision They’ll Always Regret
By Paul Semendinger
Let’s start with the raw stats: .309/.429/.615 (The .615 slugging percentage, by the way, led the league)
1.044 OPS (also led the league)
42 doubles (yup, led the league)
35 home runs
101 runs scored
He’s the probable 2021 National League Most Valuable Player.
And he could have been a Yankee.
He SHOULD have been a Yankee.
By all accounts, Bryce Harper wanted to be a Yankee.
He was the perfect player for the Yankees.
But the Yankees (worth over five billion dollars, which made the Yankees, by far, the most valuable franchise in the entire sport) thought he was too expensive.
So, he’s not a Yankee.
When the Yankees had the chance to acquire Bryce Harper they passed – not for baseball reasons. They passed because the Yankees owners cared more about his cost than bringing one of the very best players to the team.
The luxury cap prevented the Yankees from bringing a young superstar to the team.
This was a young superstar entering his prime years – a young player with the skills and the swagger that New York loves. He would have been a mega-star on the Yankees.
Instead he now plies his trade in Philadelphia.
Penny wise, pound foolish.
This is a lost the Yankees will regret forever more.
It is my hope that the Yankees learn from this mistake and never make a similar one again.
When Bryce Harper goes into the Hall-of-Fame, he won’t be wearing Yankees pinstripes.
There won’t ever be a Bryce Harper Day at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees won’t be selling Bryce Harper shirts for generations. (The Phillies will).
Bryce Harper won’t be the focus of a Yankeeography. or any specials on the YES Network. But, someday, he’ll have a special on the MLB Network, of that I’m sure. He’ll get the ESPN treatment too. He’s already been on countless magazine covers, web site front pages, and video game covers. On all of those, there is only one thing absent – Yankee pinstripes.
It didn’t have to be.
It shouldn’t have been.
The Yankees have often had the best player of the generation. When they haven’t had that player, they at least tried to get him.
And the Yankees could have had Bryce Harper.
But they passed. They didn’t even try. That’s the real crime… they didn’t even try to acquire him.
They were too cheap.
The most valuable franchise in baseball was focused on more on a luxury tax than bringing in a player who would have been the perfect fit for the team.
Oh, he bats left-handed, something the Yankees needed, desperately, when he was available. Years later they still had that need – well into the 2021 season.
And might have that need again next year.
Remember these names:
These players were Yankees prospects – traded away at the trade deadline in 2021 in exchange for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo because the Yankees needed a quality left-handed bat in the lineup. (They doubled down.)
These player costs don’t end up in the accounting ledger, but they’re still costs.
These are costs the Yankees had to pay because they didn’t acquire Bryce Harper when all it would have taken is money, something the Yankees have plenty of.
Joey Gallo’s WAR in 2021 (for the whole season) was 4.6 (as a Yankee it was 0.4)
Anthony Rizzo’s WAR in 2021 (for the whole season) was 1.7 (as a Yankee it was 0.5)
Bryce Harper’s WAR in 2021 was 5.9.
Since joining the Phillies, Bryce Harper has accumulated the following numbers: .281/.402/.556
He has 83 homers and 87 doubles.
He’s driven in 231 runs and scored 240.
He’s a superstar.
He could have been a Yankee.
It’s not certain that either Joey Gallo or Anthony Rizzo will be Yankees in 2022. Six possible future big leaguers also won’t be Yankees because the Yankees gambled on Gallo and Rizzo.
Gallo was a flop. As a Yankee, he batted .160 in 58 games. I don’t care how many homers a player hits (Gallo hit 13 as a Yankee), .160 just isn’t good enough. Gallo will be 28-years-old next season.
Rizzo was better, but not great. As a Yankee, he batted .249/8/21. Rizzo is 32-years-old.
Bryce Harper? He’s going to be just 29-years-old next year.
All who have watched the Yankees the last few years have seen that the team lacks intensity, fire, energy, and drive. The Yankees go about their business sometimes in a way that seems perfunctory. They are businesslike. The players don’t seem to have a passion for the game. The energy is often lacking.
Many who have watched the Yankees these last three years have noted that they are boring to watch. And quite often they are.
No one says any of that about Bryce Harper.
He has so many qualities that the current Yankees lack. He’s an exciting player. Alone he would have made the Yankees more compelling. He would have made the team more exciting. With Bryce Harper, the 2021 Yankees would have had an added element of fun and excitement.
He would have put more fans in the seats and more fans would have tuned in to watch him.
And his outstanding play would have made the Yankees better.
He couldn’t have been a Yankee.
He should have been a Yankee.
As a free agent, Anthony Rizzo will probably get a contract for 2022 that pays him between $15 and $18m.
As a player in his final year of arbitration, Joey Gallo will probably earn upwards of $10m for next season.
There is no guarantee that either will even be a Yankee.
Bryce Harper will make $27.5m in 2022.
It’s possible that if they’re Yankees that Gallo and Rizzo will cost the team more than Harper would have. It will at least be close.
Neither Gallo nor Rizzo nor Gallo and Rizzo will have the impact on the Yankees of 2022 than Bryce Harper would have.
Harper was there. He was available. And the Yankees passed.
If Gallo and Rizzo are not Yankees in 2022, where will their (much needed) left-handed power come from?
If the Yankees have to make a trade, that will be more players added to the cost of not acquiring Harper.
If they sign a big free agent like Freddy Freeman or Corey Seager, odds are that the contract they’ll receive will be in the neighborhood of Harper’s. It is likely that Freeman’s contract and Seager’s contract will both exceed Harper’s $27.5m in 2022.
If the Yankees have to make a trade to get a quality left-handed bat, that will be more prospects lost.
Yeah, penny wise and pound foolish.
I also know the argument – Harper is a corner outfielder… where would he play?
Joey Gallo isn’t a centerfielder.
Neither is Anthony Rizzo.
The Yankees found a way to fir them both in.
They could have done the same with Harper.
The Yankees, in desperation, also played Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo in centerfield in 2021. I think Bryce Harper could man the position as well as either of those two players – none of whom are natural to that position.
Games in CF (career): Harper (187), Gallo (55), Judge (24)
Range Factor in CF (by game): Harper (2.17), Gallo (2.15), Judge (1.79)
Fielding Percentage in CF: Judge (1.000), Harper (.983), Gallo (.975)
And let’s talk opportunity costs.
Would the 2021, 2020, or 2019 Yankees, all who failed to reach the World Series, have been better teams with Bryce Harper?
Might there be a A.L. Pennant flying in Yankee Stadium if Harper had been signed. Of course. How could one argue against that?
Might there be a World Championship banner? Yes, of course.
If Bryce Harper were part of the core for 2022, and 2023, and 2024, and… would the Yankees be a better team than they are today?
And he could have been here.
I mentioned the players the Yankees had to trade because they needed a lefty bat (one it was clear that they needed the year they didn’t sign Harper and one it finally took them until July 2021 to try to acquire).
What I didn’t mention yet are the prospects the Yankees could have had today if they had signed Bryce Harper.
If Bryce Harper had been signed, Aaron Hicks could have been traded. Clint Frazier could have been traded. Miguel Andujar could have been traded.
And there are others.
In 2019, Hicks, Frazier, and Andujar could have netted a myriad of high quality young players. No longer.
Today Hicks, Frazier, and Andujar are still with the Yankees and their value has plummeted. Injuries and uneven performance has made each replacement-level players.
When the Yankees had the chance to trade those players for younger prospects, or for needed pitching, they didn’t. They couldn’t because they were the supposed starters…
These are costs that the franchise will never be able to put in a ledger. But they’re costs nonetheless.
Bryce Harper could have been a Yankee.
Bryce Harper SHOULD have been a Yankee.
He should be a Yankee still. And for a long time to come.
The Yankees will regret, forever, that they passed on acquiring this great player.
Flags fly forever.
The flags that don’t fly also don’t fly forever.
It didn’t have to be this way.