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Atlanta Braves Morning Chop: what’s an outfielder worth?

The World Series will end within the few days, and then the off-season  machinery will begin turning.  Some are getting their engines started early.

The Atlanta Braves need an outfielder for 2019 – whether that’s a left or right fielder is to be determined, but one is essential.

While there appears to be a deep chasm between those who would like to see Bryce Harper fill that role, it’s already become obvious that his agent – Scott Boras – isn’t inclined to make the process easy at all.

In fact, he may have already completely eliminated the Braves from even bothering to inquire.

Boras is all about this self-built reputation of getting the most dollars for his clients – and thus the ‘premium’ players have tended to gravitate toward hiring him for contract representation.

As such, Boras actively seeks out the record-setting contracts.  The list is actually extensive over his 33-ish years as an agent.  Some highlights include these:

  • Andruw Jones winning a record-high $8.2 million via arbitration in 2001 – a record that stood for the next seven seasons.
  • Greg Maddux got a $14.75 million deal from the Braves – the largest 1-year deal ever at that time.
  • Barry Zito got a 7 year, $126 million deal with the Giants – largest pitching deal ever as of 2006.
  • In 2008, C.C. Sabathia secured a record $161 million over 7 years.
  • Boras got a record $9.9 million for Bryce Harper over 5 years immediately after being drafted in 2010.

Boras now apparently wants to do this ‘record thing’ again with Bryce Harper.  Here’s Bruce Levine talking about it from his Cubs’ perspective:

The Cubs will now have the chance to make an aggressiveness pursuit of Harper to create an elite lineup. The bidding for him in free agency will start at 10 years and $350 million.

Now I can’t say if this is simply ‘chatter’ or if it’s a comment from someone connected to Scott Boras, but I can infer that Boras wouldn’t mind seeing this in the press.

Based on Cots’ numbers, the largest contract currently on the books is that of Giancarlo Stanton at $325 million.  In single-year earnings, the record is Zack Greinke‘s $34.4 or $34.5 million (depending on who you ask)…

Of special note:  neither of these players use Scott Boras’ services.  Boras may therefore have designs on breaking both records in one motion with Harper.

 

The ‘Value’ of Performance

Fangraphs tracks player contracts in concert with player performance (measured by Wins Above Replacement- fWAR) every year.

Not surprisingly, the cost of contracts has continued to rise strongly.  Maybe more surprising, though is that the cost to produce each point of fWAR value is still increasing as well.

In 2016, each fWAR point was “worth” $10.2 million among players no longer under the arbitration system (6+ years of MLB service time).  In 2017, that rose to $10.5 million.

In 2018, the Braves cranked 25.7 fWAR via position players and 15.0 on the pitching side – a nice total of 40.7.

Year-end spending figures are not yet in, but Atlanta figures to have spent around $115 million (counting the dead money), so the Braves were quite economical in getting a rate of $2.8 million for each fWAR produced.

The difference, of course, lies in getting excellent production from pre-arb and arbitration players.

Bryce Harper is now in neither category – but Scott Boras will clearly be trying to convince teams that the 30.7 fWAR his client produced between 2012 and 2018 will be worth every bit of this $35 million figure… and more.

Harper has had up-and-down seasons, but his average output of 4.38 fWAR per year feels about right for future projections.  By fangraphs’ reckoning, then, he’s actually a $46 million player.  Yikes!

But would anyone (outside Boras’ circles) seriously agree with that?  33% higher than any player has ever been paid?  For production half as much as the best players in the game today (Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, and Jose Ramirez)??

 

Getting Around to the Point

The Atlanta Braves will not be a player in the Harper sweepstakes if this is what Boras is intent on doing.  Period.

The reasons for this are simple:  (a) the Braves can find similar annualized production for a lot less; and (b) Boras being Boras, he will drag this out into January (or later) if he has to, and this team needs to have clarity on their outfield a lot sooner than that.

We saw last season that teams may have reached a tipping point at which they balk at the idea of long-term high-dollar deals for players over 30.

Harper, in particular, isn’t that, but he wants a deal that will extend well into his mid-30’s, with the money staying in record territory.  I can’t see that happening.

Could Atlanta be a player for Harper in the $25 million range?  Yeah – that’s possible.  But it appears this would require the player himself directing his agent to take that kind of offer… and if that were to happen, it would have been pointless for Harper to hire Boras in the first place.

Inasmuch as I’ve mused recently about Harper and the possibility of an Atlanta destination… Boras appears to have drawn a line in the sand… and Atlanta doesn’t cross such boundaries.

So already, Harper probably has one less suitor for his services… and may in fact have narrowed the list to only about 4 or 5 teams… at the most.



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