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The Yankees’ $400 million dollar question: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

 

It’s gonna take money.  A whole lot of spending money.

Yes, that line was stolen from the late George Harrison’s song “Got My Mind Set on You.”  But the message happens to resonate with Yankees fans, and in a short period of time, the front office will also have to face the music.

While the media’s spotlight has shifted its focus onto the Yankees’ youth this spring–which of course isn’t bad news–less than two years separates New York and 29 other clubs from what is expected to be a historic free-agent class in Major League Baseball. The list of players on the market will be intimidating just as much as it’ll be rousing.

And leading the free-agent pack will likely be two 26-year-old stars, which leaves the Yankees with a critical decision:

Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

In a recent poll of 1,893 Bronx Pinstripes subscribers, 50-percent voted that the Yankees should go after Machado in free agency, rather than Harper (42-percent). While recent speculation has left most fans and analysts to believe at least one of these players will be in the Bronx by 2019, eight-percent voted to pursue neither.

John Harper of the New York Daily News also tackled this debate, and asked seven baseball talent evaluators who they believe is worth the large check. Of the seven, four leaned in favor of Harper.

Here are some of the evaluators’ opinions on the two All-Stars, according to Harper’s story.

Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals OF)

“He’s become a disciplined hitter,’’ says a major-league scout. “He’s been pitched carefully for a few years now, and he’s learned not to chase out of the (strike) zone very often. Even when he wasn’t hitting last year, he was willing to take his walks.”

“He should hit 30 without really trying in a normal year,’’ a GM said. “So I think there was probably an issue, and I think you’ll see the power come back. I love Machado and obviously I’d be thrilled to have either one, but if I had to choose, Harper’s home-run potential would give him the edge. Especially if you’re talking about playing half your games in Yankee Stadium. I could see him having years where he hits 50-plus home runs.”

“That Stadium is made for his power, but I like his intensity, too,” said another executive. “He can be a little too brash at times, but my take on him is he plays hard and he really wants to win, and he has enough athleticism that he should age well as he gets into his 30s. What clinches it for me is if I’m thinking about the Yankees, they have some good-looking kids coming that should give them a deep lineup in a couple of years. To me, dropping Harper’s home-run bat into the middle of that lineup, with his lefthanded power complementing (Gary) Sanchez from the right side … that’s a move that puts you over the top.”

Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles 3B/SS)

“I’m fresh off being blown away watching Machado in the WBC,’’ said one team executive, “so maybe that’s a factor, but I’d have to take him. I love watching the guy play defense. He must have saved five or six runs, potentially anyway, in those WBC games, and we value that more than ever. I’d give Harper a slight edge offensively, but Machado is a legit middle-of-the-order hitter. And he seems to get a little better every year.”

“Two execs on the Machado side mentioned another factor: All things being equal, they’d prefer not to have to deal with agent Scott Boras, who represents Harper but not Machado.”

In summation, the Yankees will have to face a high-end problem. Luckily for their front office, these situations are customary, as history shows that general manager Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner aren’t afraid to invest in top-dollar items.  As of late, however, ownership has shown some reluctance to spend and bulk up, which was the necessary course of action to assemble its current pseudo-rebuild. Even if fans opposed last summer’s trade deadline fire sale, early projections and performances suggest it paid huge dividends.

 

But let’s talk money–paper bills. Experts in the industry have concluded that both Harper and Machado will receive record-breaking contracts, values that may reach as high as $400 million. Considering there’s no salary cap in MLB, and that it’s nearly impossible to put a “realistic” price on player’s statistics, these dollar figures can leave an executive transfixed. But, once again, the Yankees took the initiative to look toward the future. By continuing to sell aged veterans, along with an effort to trim payroll, the team will eventually be situated under the luxury tax threshold and ready to assemble another championship contender.

Now, money is the fear factor, but a particular buzzword mentioned by one of Harper’s sources may carry a burden. The word “Boras” should stand out, as the renowned Scott Boras is Harper’s agent. It’s no secret that Boras satisfies his five dozen-or-so clients when it comes to meetings and negotiations. Have any doubts? Just ask the Yankees. In 2007, Alex Rodriguez received a 10-year, $250 million contract to stay in New York, and in the winter of 2013, free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury agreed to a deal worth $153 million over seven years. The Yankees were forced to learn the hard way that long-term investments are risky, and based on their current financial stance, they’ve also realized those signings were regrettable. But to play devil’s advocate, don’t allow these examples to dictate how the franchise should allocate its funds. In fairness, both Rodriguez and Ellsbury received their paydays over the age of 30. Machado and Harper will be four years younger, awaiting their prime seasons. To digress, refer back to the buzzword of “Boras.” Harper comes with him while Machado doesn’t.

A question that always needs to be asked is “What have you done for me lately?” Here’s a hint: The answer can be found on the back of a baseball card.  Yes, character, work ethic and professionalism are significant factors in business, but statistics will always explain the full story.

When evaluating Harper’s ability and past numbers, the initial reaction is that it’s unlikely he will fall into a hitting slump for a second consecutive season (.243 BA, 24 HR, 86 RBI in 2016). There’s every reason to believe he will return to his MVP-caliber level, which includes a left-handed swing that’s tailor made for Yankee Stadium’s short porch. But an issue that surrounds Harper’s candidacy isn’t his body of work–it’s the work of others. Outfield prospects Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier and Blake Rutherford appear to be in the franchise’s future plans, and Ellsbury remains under contract until 2021. Would Harper replace one of the youngster’s in the outfield or at the designated hitter slot? That’s nothing to sneeze at. 

As for Machado, each season has shown notable progress. In 2016, he hit .294 with 37 home runs and 96 RBI, and is well on his way to competing for the American League’s batting title. Another strength of Machado’s is his handiwork in the field, as he knows no bounds at third base and shortstop. When looking at the tape, Machado’s glove and cannon of an arm has the edge over Harper’s, which should be taken into account. The Yankees will be looking for a new third baseman soon, as Chase Headley’s contract expires after the 2018 season. 

Both five-tool players have made their presence known, and in the next couple seasons, the debate between Harper and Machado will continue to ignite. Fortunately for the Yankees, the decision is gonna take time. A whole lot of precious time.

Sorry for stealing another line, George.

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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