Michael Nicastro is the author of this piece.
It’s October 22nd, 2019. The Pirates trail the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the National League Division Series.
Two on, two outs with Kenley Jansen in to shut the door and send the Dodgers back to the Championship Series. Into the box steps Pirates right fielder and MVP favorite Bryce Harper. PNC Park erupts as fans can taste their first trip back to the NLCS since 1992. The windup and the pitch…ball four. Harper is inevitably walked to get to Colin Moran who weakly grounds out to first to end the game and the season.
Wasn’t that fun while it lasted?
As much as the ending would sting, I’d bet Pirate fans would accept that particular outcome 100 out of 100 times. The aforementioned scenario also evokes the same type of emotion fans are accustomed to around the Steel City during the winter months.
We’re all waiting on the edge of our seats for something big to happen — just to ultimately be let down year after year. So why haven’t the Pirates ever attempted to lure the biggest fish on the market? And why aren’t we even considering taking the LaVar Ball approach and “speaking it into existence?” If there were ever a time for a middling franchise to kick start a fan base, it would be now.
Bryce Harper will play the entire 2019 season as a 26-year-old with 184 home runs already under his belt. With his iconic beard and luscious mane, Harper is already arguably the most recognizable and marketable player the sport has to offer. But for some peculiar reason, he is still a free agent.
Maybe not that strange when you consider his asking price was north of $400 million prior to hitting the open market.
It is likely that price has come down after large market teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Dodgers have focused their attention elsewhere. Those aforementioned empires are more inclined now to offer a 3-5 year deal with a higher average annual value to the star outfielder.
So maybe the Pirates should step in and offer the lucrative, long-term deal that he is pushing for (keep in mind that we are still in an alternate reality). Here are some reasons why:
They are a team on the cusp.
On paper, the Pirates may have the best rotation in the National League Central. Throwing out Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, and Trevor Williams or Joe Musgrove in a 3-game series is a daunting task for any foe. FanGraphs projects the Pirates at 82 wins in 2019 – right in the mix for the all-too-familiar wild card spot. But why limit yourself to infinite purgatory? Signing Harper immediately sends a message to the entire league: that they’re not the same Pirates.
They are in need of star power.
Lots of emphasis on the word star here. The Pirates most marketable position player is currently Starling Marte, a tremendous five-tool player but someone who hasn’t necessarily taken off the same way Andrew McCutchen did when he was here, in terms of fandom. Harper would change that in one fell swoop. I sound like a broken record, but once again, as ticket sales and winning increases, so will revenue and ultimately payroll. An acquisition like Harper can often pay for itself.
They can afford it.
Yes, hear me out. Forbes estimates the the Pirates bring in roughly $258 million in annual revenues from a multitude of sources. Their current TV deal with AT&T Sports is pegged right around $25 million and is set to expire this year. You can anticipate that deal being reconfigured to the tune of somewhere between $40 and $50 million. And they currently sit with a bottom-five projected payroll in all of baseball, somewhere currently right around $80 million. A $30 million annual salary to Harper is in the realm of possibility no matter how many times you or I will be told otherwise.
With the recent acquisition of Melky Cabrera, a likely fourth outfielder until Gregory Polanco is healthy, the Pirates have probably taken themselves out of not only the Harper market (as if they were ever in it), but any major fre agent bidding war that is still out there. The question of if you sign Harper what would you do with an already stable and impressive outfield of Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco (when healthy) will of course need to be addressed. The answer to that is simple. If you have a shot at Bryce Harper – you figure it out.
I can visualize it all…well, almost all of it. Harper and his majestic beard waving on black and gold flags throughout a buzzing PNC Park. As a rationalist, certainly this type of move won’t be coming to fruition anytime soon. But if only for a short moment, wasn’t it fun to dream?