TAMPA — Bryce Harper knew it was unlikely his childhood dreams would come true. Perhaps the biggest player in baseball now, he looked at the landscape when he entered free agency this winter and knew that his favorite team growing up, the Yankees, were not likely to make him an offer.
They never called this winter. He’s OK with it.
“I know the kind of outfield they have. They went out and got (Giancarlo) Stanton in that (2017) trade, so it was kind of up in the air. (I) never heard from them,” Harper said. “Everyone knew growing up I was a huge Yankees fan, of course, but I am happy where I am at and very excited to start my chapter with the Phillies.”
And the Yankees are happy to close the chapter on the 2018 free agency, as well. Wednesday night, Harper came to George M. Steinbrenner Field in the road grey-and-red uniforms of the Phillies. He was booed as he was announced before his at-bat in the first inning, but there are no hard feelings either way on this one.
The Phillies gave Harper a record-breaking 13-year, $330 million deal. It surpassed the $325 million deal that Stanton had signed with the Marlins, before they dealt the 2017 National League MVP to the Yankees. That move was what Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman said was their big-ticket item. It was also likely the move that killed Harper’s chances of becoming a Yankee.
When Harper’s bizarrely long free agency finally ended earlier this month, Cashman said he was done talking about the 2018 free agency. He was tired of answering questions about why the Yankees never made an offer to free agent infielder Manny Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres, and never pursued Harper.
“I’m closing the chapter on these questions about high-end free agency in the winter,” the Yankees GM said last Sunday. “I feel like we’ve vetted that enough. Sorry, I’d rather focus on the here and now, and the real, rather than the unreal.”
The Yankees did spend this winter.
The Yankees added to their bullpen — bringing back Zack Britton and adding Adam Ottavino — and to their depth with utility infielder DJ LeMahieu. With healthy seasons from Giancarlo Stanton, who until Harper signed his deal, had held the record for the largest contract in American sports history, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, the Yankees offense, which set a record for home runs in a single season last year, will be just fine.
And the Yankees saved money to plan for their future this winter. Already they have spent on buying out ace Luis Severino’s arbitration years with a four-year, $40 million deal, along with extending center fielder Aaron Hicks on a seven-year, $70 million deal.
With Judge and Sanchez reaching their first arbitration year next season, Cashman has hinted that the Yankees are planning for those paydays. He also said the Yankees have talked to other of their young players about extensions.
They also have the financial flexibility to go out and make a move if they need to bulk up their rotation, which is already being stretched thin by an injury to Severino and a slow start by CC Sabathia.
So Wednesday night, the Yankees were able to sit back and watch the circus, instead of being the main attraction in the big tent as they usually are. Extra reporters and National League scouts were on hand to see Harper.
“I like seeing stars in a different uni. (I) like seeing how that looks,” Yankee manager Aaron Boone said of seeing Harper in the opposing lineup — something he won’t have to do this regular season.
Before going 0-for-2 with a catchers interference, a run scored and a strikeout Wednesday night, Harper relived a little bit of his childhood fantasies. He stood around the batting cage talking to Yankees legend Reggie Jackson.
“Just to be able to stand there, talk to him, and hear what he had to say is pretty incredible,” Harper said. “He’s very soft spoken. Just being able to talk to him for a second is pretty cool.”