Reggie Jackson knows firsthand what it’s like to be one of the most sought-after players in baseball. The 72-year-old Hall-of-Famer, who headlined the first-ever free agent class back in 1976, became the highest-paid player at the time when he signed a five-year, $3.5 million contract with the Yankees. A bargain price, even by today’s standards.
But while the Yankees — among a few other clubs — continue to weigh the pros and cons of investing in flagship free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado behind closed doors, Jackson hopes the two 26-year-old superstars will prioritize winning over money once offers are proposed to them.
“The most important thing is to get on a team where you can flourish, and a team that will complement your skill set,” Jackson told SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio on Wednesday. “I’ve seen players sign giant contracts and go to teams that have no chance to win, and I don’t quite get that… The talent you have is an asset, and you need to pick a spot where that asset and that talent that you have can grow, get better, and you can wind up with an opportunity to be a world champion. But that seems to get lost with trying to become the highest-paid player or tying to get the most money.”
Prior to this winter, industry experts projected that both Harper and Machado would receive record-shattering contracts — worth north of $300 million — due to their youth, experience, and track record. That valuation no longer appears to be realistic, however, due to the general lack of teams interested throughout baseball.
Because of this stunning reality, teams with the financial wherewithal or payroll flexibility to acquire either player (i.e. the Yankees, Phillies, and White Sox, to name a few) have dragged out negotiations, and it remains unclear as to when Harper and Machado will sign. It also remains unclear as to how much they will sign for. Teams have been taking full advantage of the waiting game, and as a result of this bargaining tactic, the vast majority of top players on the market will be forced to agree to terms that are well below their expectations.
Statistics and advanced analytics suggest that both Harper and Machado are deserving of average annual values (AAV) in the $30-40 million range. Too high? Too low? Just right?
Jackson’s opinion is far from original.
“Once you get past $20 million [per year], you’ve got enough for life,” said Jackson, who still works for the Yankees as a special adviser to Hal Steinbrenner. “And once you start getting to $30-40 million, you can change your entire family. There’s 40 members in my family, maybe 45, and the career I’ve had, I’ve been able to help change the direction of so many of those people with not nearly the amount of money that the players are asking for today…
“I want to see Bryce Harper and Manny Machado be great citizens and be great people, not worry so much about the money. Make sure that you add value to the community that you’re going to go to and the franchise and the game of baseball. Because you’re going to become one of the faces of the game. I don’t know whether you’re going to become the big guy that we’ve got in Aaron Judge or someone like that. But once you start making the big money, get in the right market, you can add value to the sport, the game, your family, yourself, as well as the franchise.”
It’s not hyperbole to say that Harper and Machado are on Hall-of-Fame tracks. According to FanGraphs, dating back to 1945, both players rank in the Top-20 of WAR (wins above replacement) accumulated through age 25.