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Bryce Harper Must Be At-All-Cost Pursuit as Yankees' Future Iconic Centerpiece

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 19, 2015

USA Today

Officially, the New York Yankees will be in the capital over the next two days for a two-game series against the Washington Nationals.

But they can also do some window shopping while they're there, with one particular item at the top of their wish list: Bryce Harper. It'll likely be a while before the Yankees actually have a shot at him, but this is their chance to at least imagine how great he would look in pinstripes.

The first and only time the Yankees got an up-close look at Washington's young right fielder before this week was back in June of 2012. He was just a 19-year-old pup at the time and was basically still a prospect with only 40-odd major league games under his belt.

Harper's going to look a little different this time around. He's now older and wiser at 22, and these days he's the game's most dominant player.

In the last two weeks, Harper has turned into the Human Torch. He's batting an absurd .564 with a 2.038 OPS in his last 11 games, with nine home runs, 18 runs scored and 22 RBI to boot.

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Overall, Harper's numbers for the 2015 season now border on absurd. He's hitting .338 and leading the National League with 14 home runs. He also entered Monday leading the majors in on-base percentage (.476), slugging percentage (.729), OPS (1.206) and, whether you ask FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference.com, wins above replacement.

And it all doesn't feel too good to be true.

There was no question coming into 2015 that Harper had the talent to be an elite player. He had entered the league as one of the most hyped prospects in baseball history, and he authored a perfectly respectable .272/.351/.465 batting line with 55 home runs in his first three seasons.

Harper is still a front-foot hitter, but he's become less of a front-foot hitter.
Harper is still a front-foot hitter, but he's become less of a front-foot hitter.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Seemingly all Harper had to do to realize his full potential in 2015 was stay healthy, and he's done that and more. His dominance stems from an overhauled approach and, as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs highlighted, a simplified swing that allows for better pitch recognition and more effortless power.

It's a stretch to say Harper's career has been resurrected, but that's the way it feels after injuries cost him so much playing time and production in 2013 and 2014. Thanks to his epic turnaround, everyone is once again free to be super-duper excited about his future.

And that's where the Yankees come in. For as Harper's future figures to be bright no matter what, you don't need to be a Yankee executive to see just how bright it could be in New York.

You're probably already thinking what I'm thinking, so let's just be out with it: Put Harper in Yankee Stadium, and he'd become a monster even Guillermo Del Toro wouldn't want to mess with.

Harper is a left-handed slugger, after all. And with its cartoonishly short right-field porch, no stadium is more infamous for catering to those than Yankee Stadium. That reputation is well earned, as FanGraphs' park factors highlight it as the best place for lefty home-run hitters outside of Coors Field.

What's more, Harper is just the kind of hitter who could regularly exploit such an advantage. He was already a good pull hitter before. Now he's an elite pull hitter.

As these figures from FanGraphs show, Harper is pulling the ball (Pull%) more often, and doing so with more fly balls (FB%) and more hard contact (Hard%) than ever before, resulting in a career-best batting average and power production (ISO):

Bryce Harper Goes to Right Field: 2012-2015
YearPull%Pull FB%Hard%AVGISO
201231.519.736.4.359.406
201339.217.737.9.351.328
201438.924.731.6.385.292
201550.529.241.7.417.521
FanGraphs

That Harper is doing this at all is impressive enough on its own. That he's translating it into results at a home stadium that doesn't cater to left-handed power hitters makes it even more impressive.

For perspective on that, Baseball-Reference.com says Harper would be hitting .353 with a 1.256 OPS and 15 home runs in a neutral environment. Knowing that, you can only imagine what he could be doing at a much-kinder-than-neutral environment like Yankee Stadium.

If what happens between the lines is all you care about, you should already be sold on what Harper could do as a Yankee. But since we're talking about the Yankees and a superstar player, it's hard to ignore that there might be no player in the majors more perfectly cut out to be a Yankee.

It's not just that he apparently wants to be a great Yankee, though that is part of it. Harper idolizes Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. He's openly rooted for the Yankees on Twitter. And according to a guy who wrote the actual book on Harper, it's "been a goal" of his to end up in pinstripes.

Even more important than the apparent desire, however, is how Harper has just the right kind of attitude to thrive in pinstripes.

Matt Harvey: King of New York baseball.
Matt Harvey: King of New York baseball.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Harper has the kind of confidence that borders on arrogance, and that's rubbed plenty of people the wrong way. But it really suits him now that he's establishing himself as the lethal force he was always projected to be. If he were to take this act to New York, he could be the Yankees' answer to New York Mets ace Matt Harvey and their most Reggie Jackson-like player since, well, Reggie Jackson.

In light of the drop-offs in their attendance and local TV ratings since 2010, the Yankees could use a player like that right now. Surely, they're going to need one even more in the near future once stars like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia begin to slip away.

And while the Yankees do have two really good-looking prospects in Luis Severino and Aaron Judge, they're obviously not the sure things Harper has become. At the least, trying to cultivate them into superstars shouldn't preclude the Yankees from trying to go really big with Harper as soon as they can.

To that end, the Yankees can set their sights on the winter of 2018-2019.

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 12:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals sits in the dugout before the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 12, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Harper's free agency isn't imminent. It won't come until after his age-25 season in 2018, putting it three-and-a-half years away.

And yes, there is the possibility Harper won't make it to free agency.

There hasn't been much buzz about the Nationals signing him to a long-term contract extension, but Harper's ongoing rise to superstardom could light a fire under the Nationals front office. And if the club's dispute with the Baltimore Orioles over television earnings is indeed resolved in the near future, it could soon find itself with some extra funds for the task.

Even then, however, locking up Harper could be tough.

The reality that Harper and the Nationals haven't always been on the best of terms could come back to bite Washington at the negotiating table. There's also the reality that Scott Boras doesn't seem interested in letting Harper make like Mike Trout and settle for a team-friendly deal.

"I have the pleasure and privilege of watching Mike Trout play every night," said the super-agent last March, via the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. "I think he's a very special cup of tea, for which he is deserving of a completely different brew. While few, I definitely consider Bryce Harper as part of the next generation of elite brand of teas. Certainly as a studied connoisseur, I may hold a differing opinion as to the availability, demand and value of tea futures."

Reminder: Scott Boras doesn't easily back down from what Scott Boras wants.
Reminder: Scott Boras doesn't easily back down from what Scott Boras wants.Carlos Osorio/Associated Press/Associated Press

It sounds like Boras would prefer a deal more like what he had in mind for Harper back in 2013. That was a 12-year contract, which was unheard of at the time.

But not anymore, as the Miami Marlins created a precedent for one of those when they inked Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract in November. If Boras were to use that as a model for Harper, the rate at which his star is rising could make Stanton's figures a mere starting point.

If that were to be too much for the Nationals, they'd have two options: Find a taker for Harper in a trade, or hold on to him until free agency. Since they're presumably still going to be a major power in the NL East over the next three seasons, however, holding on to Harper would be their only real option.

If free agency after 2018 is what it comes to for Harper, the Yankees will have every reason to be first in line.

There are obviously all the reasons Harper would look good in Yankees pinstripes, and then there's the financial side of the equation. Even if the bidding for Harper's services were to be pushed into double-digit years and upward of $30 million per year, the Yankees could make it work.

They're never short on funds, and by then they should have more than enough room for Harper on their payroll. After 2018, they'll be free of A-Rod, Teixeira, Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, Andrew Miller and perhaps Brian McCann. Hence why their commitments for 2019 stand at only $45 million, per Baseball Prospectus.

So, never mind why the Yankees should have Harper at the top of their wish list. The real question is why not? He's a perfect player for them, and he could become available at the perfect time.

For now, the Yankees must bide their time. Rather than pry him away on the spot or steal him away on the night, all the Yankees can do in Harper's presence over the next two days is imagine and, indeed, yearn for the possibilities.

That, and enjoy the show.

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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