Bryce Harper’s value on the field is enormous. Look at players who have put up comparable value at his age: They are all in the Hall of Fame. It would take a historic collapse for Harper not to join them.
Of course, the value of his contract is also going to be enormous. That’s led some to question - and reasonably so - whether even a generational talent like Harper will be worth the kind of deal he actually gets.
For me, the one thing these analyses consistently ignore is this: Whatever value Bryce Harper puts up on the field, his value off-the-field exceeds that of any other professional baseballer. And friends, it’s not even particularly close.
The marketability of baseball players has been on the wane for many years, at least relative to other athletes. They don’t command quite the same level of fame as Lebron James, Lionel Messi, Jordan Spieth, et al.
The one ballplayer who cracks into that top tier of celebrity athletes is Bryce Harper.
How can we put a value on such things? I have no idea. But there are plenty of marketing wonks who do. One such firm valued Harper the most valuable baseball player on social media. Another ranks Harper’s personal “brand value” 13th among all athletes, one of only three baseball players in the Top 50, and the only one on the list for the past several years running.
You don’t need these rankings to tell you that when it comes to which baseball players star in commercials and are on the cover of video games, at the top of the list is Bryce Harper. That has surely provided much value to the Washington Nationals.
Whether he’s wearing a Washington Nationals jersey, or just a jersey with their color scheme where we conveniently don’t see the logos, Bryce Harper has upped the visibility of that franchise enormously. He will do the same to whatever team signs him.
I hope that is something that the suits on Clark St. keep in mind when they decide how much DeWitt Cash to offer him.
The Cardinals have remained at the head of the table of Major League Baseball Franchises in large part, yes, because of consistent winning. But this smaller midwestern city has also remained prominently in the national consciousness because of a long line of players who could be called “the face of baseball” at a given moment.
Albert Pujols and Ozzie Smith were prominent faces on teams that also happened to be World Series contenders. But Mark McGwire brought the national spotlight to teams that were, for the most part, pretty average. Lou Brock was a celebrity and shoe endorser despite playing on similarly mediocre 1970s teams.
Sure, you could be the guy who says “I don’t care about celebrity... I care about winning!” But friend, you and I are watching entertainers in costumes performing on television. Celebrity is absolutely a part of the equation.
There are certainly reasons to be squeamish about any big contract, and there are particular reasons for some hesitation with Harper. Bernie did a great job of breaking these down just the other day. (Though it’s worth noting, he’s still pro-Harper.)
And I will grant you, there’s of course some hypothetical point - 12 years, $500 million - where I would call the contract too rich for my blood. A couple years ago, there were many who predicted Harper WOULD become the first $500 million man.
But after two seasons where Harper didn’t quite match his 2016 peak, projections are lower. Jim Bowden estimates Harper will get 10 years, $320 million. MLB Trade Rumors suggests 14 years, $420 million. While the total value looks like a wide spread, the AAV of those contracts are both $30 - $32 million, and any Harper deal will certainly include opt-outs.
Those aren’t the kind of market shattering numbers people were projecting two years ago. In fact, those numbers don’t even eclipse Zach Greinke for the highest AAV. It would put Harper’s annual salary in line with Miguel Cabrera, David Price and Clayton Kershaw.
That feels like a completely realistic valuation of Harper based on his on-field contributions. When you add-in the value - both tangible and intangible - of having the most famous face in the game suiting up in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, I think it’s more like a no-brainer.