October 30, 2020

Opportunity Costs Will Dictate Modest Harper Bonus

June 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Nationals fans, management and players are all seeing just what a great and phenomenal talent can do to transform a team.  Strasburg left everyone breathless for more, but although some see Bryce Harper as Strasburg, Part Deux, few believe Harper will get as big a bonus for signing in Washington.  Opportunity cost analysis says the Nationals will offer Harper good money to sign, but probably several million less than they gave Strasburg because they have other fish to fry.

In an article on Bleacher Report about the ability of the Nationals to sign Harper there were two operative quotes.  The first came from Mike Rizzo, Nationals GM.  He said that,” if the two parties want to make a deal, a deal will get done.”  It’s a remarkably non-committal statement and clearly puts the ball in Harper’s court.  That is really where it belongs.

As the Nationals 2010 season sinks slowly in the east, the need to build a team around Strasburg is a here-and-now enterprise.  There are big opportunities to builld that team, but Bryce  Harper is not part of the equation.  He is a great project, but unlikely to help for several years.

The sport glitterati see Strasburg as just renting in Washington on his way to either New York or the West Coast.  If that is true, the Nationals cannot wait the three plus years it will take for Harper to even make a major league roster, much less make real contributions.  The Nationals need starting pitching to go with Strasburg, maybe a slugging second baseman like Dan Uggla.

Free agents, trades and even next years draft all open up opportunities to add those kinds of pieces to a team that is playing for the near future.  Sure, they can afford to sign Harper as well as look for the right pieces to build around Strasburg.  Opportunity costs are not so much about the money as about the value of competing opportunities.  And there are big values out there that diminish Harper’s in 2010 and 2011.

The opportunity that most diminishes Harper’s relative value is the Nationals ability to pick second in next years draft if Harper does not sign.  The top of the 2011 draft is rich in college prospects, most of whom will be 21 next June when Harper is turning 18.  The projection now is that Anthony Rendon, this year’s college player of the year with 26 home runs for Rice, will be the first pick.

That leaves the Nationals with opportunity to use their second pick to chose among three pitchers who have pitched their teams into the College World Series, Matt Purke, Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray.  It is a year away from next June and there is no predicting who will have a great 2011 college season, but there are so many candidates, someone is going to step up and give Rendon a run for his money–so to speak.

Whichever of those pitchers steps forward, they could move quickly into the Nationals rotation while Harper is still learning how to play right field.  The good news for everyone is the second quote on Bleacher Report. Harper’s parents were quoted as saying they know their son needs to sign and get on with his career. That is a smart attitude.

As fans watched Strasburg warm up for his debut game and Harper could be seen giving interviews along the right field sideline, the consensus was that the maturity of the young man was the key.  If he is smart enough to sign for a reasonable bonus, then the Nationals want him.  If not, they maybe it is better than Washington have two top picks in next years deep pool of exceptional college talent.

The pressure is on Bryce Harper.  There is no doubt that the Nationals want to sign Harper.  But they signed Strasburg for far less than most believed possible because he wanted to play.  The same question is there for Bryce Harper.  How much does he want to play professionally and how much does he want to set records for his signing bonus. The Nationals don’t need the latter, they need help during the Strasburg era.  Harper’s answer will be forthcoming in mid-August.

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