By Jason Keidel
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Now that the Yankees have finally exhumed themselves from years of reckless spending and wretched contracts and since cultivated the most fertile farm system in the sport, which is already yielding fabulous results …
It’s time to fit them for that Darth Vader mask for a moment.
In a perfect storm of slow sports calendar and bland NBA playoffs, an otherwise benign radio interview in Chicago and follow-up chat with Rich Eisen spawned way more headlines than they would have just a month ago. Iconic baseball reporter Peter Gammons, musing over the state of baseball, was asked where he thought Bryce Harper would sign his first megawatt contract when he enters true free agency after 2018.
First, Gammons said on CBS affiliate 670 The Score in Chicago that Nationals slugger would likely love to play for the Cubs. Not only are they a great ballclub no longer burdened by billy goats or curses, they are loaded and have a blinding future. And it would reunite Harper with fellow Las Vegas native Kris Bryant, who someday will also have to climb a mountain of money just to reach his locker.
But after considering the financial reality that the Cubs can’t spend that kind of quid on two franchise players, Gammons clarified his remarks and asserted in another interview that another club could cut the biblical paycheck Harper will surely command.
Indeed, Gammons said on Rich Eisen’s show that he predicts the Bronx Bombers will be chief suitors for Harper’s considerable services. Forgive the obvious homerism, the native hubris of the New Yorker, but it’s hard not to smile at the idea of Harper in pinstripes.
With Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Mark Teixeira and soon CC Sabathia off the roster and the payroll, the Yankees will be able to spend like sailors during Fleet Week.
But it would come at odds with their current, winning formula — building from the bottom up.
Ever since the Joe Torre, ’90s dynasty began to decay, when the Yanks morphed into Larry Lucchino’s Evil Empire, they proved that just poaching the best free agents doesn’t work. All the billions spent on mercenaries such as Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Jose Contreras, A-Rod, Teixeira, etc. yielded just one World Series in about 15 years.
Could they just keep their flowering core of young studs — led by phenoms Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez — and dip their financial toes in the market by bagging Harper? As Gammons also noted, the Yankees still have great young players who haven’t even reached the roster yet, such as Gleyber Torres. Add Harper to that lineup, and you’ve got a run-churning machine.
Or considering the epic expanse of their prior spending, are they like a recovering addict who can’t touch whatever it is they couldn’t control? The Yankees indeed acted like they lost control of their spending appetites, making it rain on players developed by other teams while ignoring their own farm system for years.
So perhaps any attempt to sign or seduce Harper would trigger an impulse the Yanks need to keep in check. Maybe the whiff of all the cash and cachet will spark another spending spree that will lead the Yankees into another expensive title drought.
But if they could just sign Harper as a free agent, which would only cost them a first-round draft pick, it would not only make the Yankees exponentially better, but also restore their place as the most hated team in baseball. Maybe you must be a native New Yorker to understand, but it’s hard not to smile at both prospects.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel