Matthews: Let the Bryce Harper games begin between agent Scott Boras and the Yankees

CARLSBAD, Ca. – Super agent Scott Boras says Bryce Harper is a “generational player,’’ a once-in-a-lifetime talent who over the course of what is expected to be a 10-year, $300 million-plus free agent contract will “pay for himself’’ both in wins and economic benefit to any team lucky enough to sign him.

The Yankees say good luck with that.

Let the games begin.

Or, as Boras said during his annual State of the Boras Address, “Harper’s Bazaar has begun.’’

A comical scene played out Wednesday afternoon at baseball’s GM meetings, as a horde of media types were led to an open plaza on the grounds of the La Costa Resort, where they found Boras standing atop a staircase awaiting his audience. Passersby coming from the pool or the tennis courts craned their necks to see who the object of all the attention was, and more often than not, walked away shaking their heads in confusion or disbelief.

But for nearly an hour, over 100 baseball writers and commentators hung on his every word, because most of them concerned the player who will be the bright shiny object coveted by many teams this off-season.

The Yankees, however – the team that has been linked to Harper for years and the place that most observers assumed was his inevitable landing place once free agency hit – are either playing possum or, for one of the few times in their history, are truly willing to pass up the most attractive player on the market.

Last week, a team executive anonymously told the Daily News, “He’s not a fit for us,’’ and similar sentiments have been expressed in other outlets by similarly anonymous team sources.

When those quotes were relayed to Boras on Wednesday, he brushed them aside as if they were a not particularly pesky swarm of fleas.

“I remember they put out the same thing about Mark Teixeira in October or November (of 2008),’’ Boras said. “If I were them I’d put that out, too. This is a submarine race. This is not a regatta. You do not want other teams knowing you’re interested in a generational player.’’

Boras, who could sell Stevie Wonder a pair of binoculars, then began laying on the sales pitch for Harper. He compared his 2015 NL MVP season, when he hit 42 home runs and posted a 1.109 slugging percentage, favorably to similar seasons posted by Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Stan Musial, and pointed out that Harper did it at 22 years old, younger than any of them.

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“They all did it after age 25, so we know that elite performances are forthcoming for Bryce Harper and whatever franchise he plays for,’’ Boras said. “Anyone who’s done what he’s done at 25 is almost a lock for the Hall of Fame.’’

He then touted Harper’s versatility. You don’t need him in the outfield? Fine. He started out as a catcher. And even now, he regularly takes grounders at first base. It just so happens the Yankees could use a first baseman, and maybe a catcher, with Gary Sanchez about to undergo shoulder surgery.

And then came the piece de resistance: Boras claimed that with Harper on their roster, the Washington Nationals increased their attendance by 600,000 a year, tripled their television audience, and boosted the value of their franchise from $400 million to nearly $2 billion.

“He’s an owner’s dream happening right before you,’’ Boras said. “That rare player who pays for himself. A rocketship of economic opportunity that is about to blast off.’’

By the time Boras was done, I was ready to sign Harper myself, and I have no need for an outfielder, a catcher or a first baseman.

When the highlights of Boras’ sales pitch were repeated to Brian Cashman, it was all the Yankees GM could do to stifle his laughter. “I think he’s used that pitch before,’’ said Cashman, who wound up buying Teixeira from Boras in 2008 and Jacoby Ellsbury from him in 2014, among others.

Asked if he had ever known a player who paid for himself, Cashman cracked, “Only when the insurance kicks in.’’

Coincidentally, that is what happened last year with Ellsbury, who missed the entire 2018 season with a litany of seemingly minor injuries before undergoing surgery for a torn hip labrum in September.

Harper, however, is the kind of player that in previous generations would have become a Yankee without question.

“Aren’t you tired of that, though?,’’ Cashman asked.

In the new era of Yankees fiscal responsibility, that kind of knee-jerk spending is considered gauche and unsophisticated, the realm of rubes like the Boston Red Sox, who spent a quarter-billion dollars on players last year. And, incidentally, won the World Series. The Yankees frugally kept their payroll well below the $197 million threshold that would have caused them to contribute to baseball’s corporate welfare fund known as the luxury tax – and finished a distant second in the AL East.

Publicly at least, Cashman is maintaining the position that the economic restraint imposed by owner Hal Steinbrenner will continue.

“I just think we’re trying to make smart, efficient decisions in our player acquisitions, whether it’s who to draft or through trade acquisitions or free agent signings or waiver claims,’’ he said. “We are top-heavy in payroll, so to add more is more difficult. But the great thing with our ownership is they’re willing to listen and walk thought the process with us. We’ll vet it and we’ll see, but it’s got to make sense for us and to fit in with our plan.’’

Once upon a time, a player like Bryce Harper would be a Yankee even if it made no sense and fit no one’s plan.

Scott Boras remembers those times and so does Brian Cashman.

And while the two are dancing separately right now, it’s hard to believe that at some point this winter, they won’t wind up dancing together once again.

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