Scott Boras has a binder for Bryce Harper, as he does for most of his top-dollar clients. It is divided into a handful of sections and populated with carefully edited PowerPoint slides, positioned just like that. From time to time, while browsing, the agent realizes that a page could make his argument better if it is placed just before this or the next one. Then open the three rings, take out a sheet and move it.
Boras and his staff have cut the Harper knotter from its original length of over 100 pages. Every second of sales must be perfect. Every moment of every meeting must exorcise any lingering doubt about the immortality of Harper's baseball. Even the perennial all-stars do not get record agreements and Boras does not want to break records with Harper's contract. He wants to crush them.
Baseball has a long-standing affinity for round numbers, so $ 400 million has always seemed like the mythical target price for any star that was good enough to take the sport into its next pay line. Some executives scoff at the fact that Harper is the man who reached that number – or that someone is, at the moment. But Boras would argue that $ 400 million is not only a reasonable amount for Harper, but also a conservative one.
Most of the pages in that wallet do not handle the money. One section is dedicated to the uniqueness of Harper, to show that it is one of the most prolific young talents that this game has ever seen. The only active players who have had more homers at the age of 25 are Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. The only other players with six seasons of 20 to zero at age 25 are all Hall of Fame: Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout and Tony Conigliaro. In other words, if you buy Harper, you buy 10 years or more of a player of the caliber of Hall of Fame, in its perfection.
Another section of the collector is dedicated to its potential, as defined by the notable numbers it compiled in 2015. If you purchase Harper, you're not only getting one of the most talented young talents of all time, but also a guy with the ability to put in numbers once in a lifetime. How many other players have compiled an OPS of 1,109 for a whole season? Only one in the last decade: Albert Pujols.
But these sections exist to support a basic financial argument: Harper, according to Boras, is worth more than anyone else has ever been – much more, in fact. He is unique, and the precedent does not apply to his case as a free agent.
Any agent can manipulate statistics to support their player's cause. Any experienced general manager would like to contrast with the statistics that make Harper more normal – like the fact that he only owns the 34th FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement in 34th place in 2016, one more than Trea Turner. Boras has argued many times that WAR is not a good statistic for Harper because he does not deal well with the outfielder, even if the outfielder Mike Trout is head of WAR in that time frame.
So, how will Boras bite the teams?
First, it will not go to those GM experts. He will sell to the property. Such an investment, Boras argues, is an investment in franchising: an investment in a brand, an increase in sales of goods and notoriety. Such a large investment could change the future of a franchise. He will try to convince the owners, the only people who do not have to convince the GMs before making such an investment.
Secondly, he will argue that most baseball people are making a mistake at Harper's free agency. Most baseball experts have thrown the Giancarlo Stanton $ 13 million contract as a basis for a Harper contract. Boras would argue that those pundits lack the point.
Stanton was signing an extension. Harper is a free agent. The Marlins still had years of control over Stanton and could therefore manipulate his total contract from where it might have been. Harper has the right to maximize its value and anyone in the market can compete to help it.
So, what is, therefore, the greatest free agent deal in recent history? Boras does not measure by total value, but by average annual value. With this measure, Zack Greinke's six-year deal with Diamondbacks made him the most-paid player in baseball history, with an average annual value of $ 34 million. So if Greinke is the previous one, Harper should get at least $ 340 million in 10 years.
But Greinke is not the right precedent, argues Boras. He is a baseline. Harper plays every day. It provides more value, more stellar power (and regular power), attracts more crowds and changes more games than Greinke. The launchers usually earn big business because of their scarcity, but could anyone object that Harper is not worth more than a few million dollars a year compared to Greinke? Say, four or five million more?
This argument leads Boras to an average annual value of about $ 39 million or $ 390 million over 10 years. All of a sudden, $ 400 million does not feel so out of reach. Make the idea that some teams are making a $ 39 million offer, or talk to a team or two thinking that Harper is worth six or seven million dollars more than Greinke each year instead of four o five, and a 10-year deal worth $ 400 million comes out.
To keep that logic, Boras encouraged Harper to sign in front of Manny Machado, despite the widespread speculation of the industry that Machado could be the first free domino agent to fall.
What happens if Machado signs an agreement with less AAV than Greinke? Even a 10-year deal valued at $ 310 million – a million more than the National Harper in September – would be the largest free agent deal in baseball history, but set an average annual value for Machado of only $ 31 million. Is Bryce Harper worth $ 9 million a year more than Manny Machado? This argument could be more difficult. Previous issues.
Boras needs only a team to bite his arguments, to see why he has to pay more than he should, or to buy Harper a once-in-a-generation talent to make that $ 400 million figure much more realistic. The question, of course, is if that team exists – and if it does, does Harper want to coexist with it?
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