Scott Boras has a briefcase for Bryce Harper, as for most of his most profitable clients. It is divided into a handful of sections and contains PowerPoint slides carefully prepared and positioned exactly like this. From time to time, when browsing through it, the agent realizes that a page could improve his argument if it was placed just before or just after it. Then he unlocks the three rings, takes out a sheet and moves it.
Boras and his staff cut the Harper binder from its original length of more than 100 pages. Every second of the sales pitch must be perfect. Every moment of every meeting must exacerbate all doubts about Harper's immortality for baseball. Even the perpetual stars do not get record deals, and Boras does not want to break records with Harper's deal. He wants to break them.
Baseball has a long-standing affinity for round numbers, so $ 400 million has always seemed to be the mythic target price of any star enough to lead the sport to its next pay border. Some leaders make fun of the idea that Harper is the man who hits that figure – or that anyone else is, for the moment. But Boras would argue that $ 400 million is not only a reasonable figure for Harper, but even a conservative figure.
Most pages in this binder do not deal with money. One section is dedicated to Harper's uniqueness and to showing that he is one of the most prolific young talents in the game. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout are the only active players to have had more circuits at age 25. The only other players with six seasons spent in 20 games before the age of 25 are all Hall of Fame members: Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout and Tony Conigliaro. In other words, if you buy Harper, you buy 10 years or more of a Hall of Fame caliber player at its peak.
Another part of the workbook is devoted to its potential, defined by the remarkable figures that it has compiled in 2015. If you buy Harper, you get not only one of the most talented young players of all time but also one to set up unique numbers 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 fundamental financial argument: Harper, according to Boras, is worth more than anyone else has ever been, well, actually. He is unique and the precedent hardly applies to his free agent case.
Any agent can manipulate statistics to support the cause of his player. Any wise general manager would contradict the statistics that give Harper a more average appearance, as does the fact that he only has the 34th highest number of FanGraph wins over baseball replacement since 2016. , a place in front of Trea Turner. Boras has repeatedly stated that WAR was not a good statistic for Harper because it did not treat field players well, although field player Mike Trout was at the top of WAR's ranking in that period.
So, how will Boras get the teams to bite?
First of all, he will not be talking to these savvy GMs. He will sell to the property. According to Boras, an investment of this magnitude is an investment at the scale of the franchise – an investment in a brand, in increasing merchandise sales and in notoriety. An investment of this size could change the future of a franchise. He will try to convince homeowners, the only people who do not have to convince GMs before making such an investment.
Secondly, he will say that most baseball players consider Harper's free agency to be totally wrong. Most baseball experts have signed the $ 325 million, 13-year deal signed by Giancarlo Stanton as the basis of a Harper contract. Boras would argue that these experts miss the point.
Stanton signed an extension. Harper is a free agent. The Marlins had for years been in control of Stanton, and could manipulate his total contract below what he could have been. Harper has the right to maximize his value and everyone in the market can compete to help him do it.
So what is the biggest free agent to treat in recent history? Boras does not measure in total value, but in average annual value. Thanks to this measure, Zack Greinke's six-year contract with the Diamondbacks has made him the highest paid player in baseball history, with an average annual value of $ 34 million. If Greinke is a precedent, Harper should get at least $ 340 million over 10 years.
But Greinke is not the right precedent, argues Boras. He is a base. Harper plays every day. It provides more value, more power in the stars (and regular power), attracts more crowds and modifies more games than Greinke. Novice pitchers usually win big deals because of their scarcity, but could anyone say that Harper is not worth a few million dollars more per year than Greinke? Say four or five million more?
This argument brings Boras an average annual value of about $ 39 million, or $ 390 million over 10 years. As a result, 400 million dollars no longer feel so inaccessible. Create the notion that some teams bid $ 39 million, or ask a team or two to think that Harper is worth six or seven million dollars more than Greinke each year instead of four or five, and ends up with a $ 400 million over 10 years. .
For this logic to be maintained, Boras has an interest in urging Harper to sign before Manny Machado, despite numerous industry speculations that Machado could be the first domino of the free agent to fall.
What if Machado signed an agreement with less AVA than Greinke? Even a 10-year deal worth $ 310 million – a million more than the Nationals proposed to Harper in September – would be the biggest total contract in the history of baseball, but would establish an average value of $ 31 million for Machado. Is Bryce Harper worth $ 9 million more per year than Manny Machado? This argument could be more difficult. The former counts.
Boras only needs a team to master his argument, have reasons to overpay, or acquire Harper as a unique talent to make the $ 400 million seem much more realistic. Of course, the question is whether this team exists – and if so, does Harper want to coexist with her?
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