Yankees Should Run Away From Both Bryce Harper, Manny Machado in Free Agency

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals talks with Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles after hitting a RBI double in the fifth inning at Nationals Park on June 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

New York Yankees fans didn't need another reason to be angry. They just watched the archrival Boston Red Sox hoist the Commissioner's Trophy. Three weeks ago, the Sox bounced the Yankees in an American League Division Series, 3-1.

If schadenfreude is deriving joy from the misery of others, this is deriving misery from the joy of others.

Monday, we got a report from Andy Martino of SNY that the Yankees are unlikely to aggressively pursue either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency.

Those are the offseason's two biggest position-player targets and two of the most exciting players of their generation. And New York will pass?

That sound you hear is a cacophony of groaning and teeth-gnashing emanating from the Bronx.

Hold on, though. Machado or Harper would make any team, including the Yankees, measurably better. That's beyond debate.

Should New York sign them? That's a different question.

And the answer, on balance, is no. Despite the admittedly sketchy optics of failing to win it all and ignoring two eminently enticing hitters, the Yankees are wise to run away from megadeals for Harper and Machado.

First, let's be clear: Harper is represented by superagent Scott Boras. Machado is with Dan Lozano and MVP Sports Group. There will be no discounts. Each player will likely surpass the record $325 million Giancarlo Stanton got from the Miami Marlins in November 2014.

That's...hang on...a lot of money.

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 10:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals and Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles talk during their game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 10, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Are Harper and/or Machado worth it? Maybe, in the funhouse mirror sense of "worth" that's been defined in MLB and professional sports in general.

They're each 26 years old. They've each played seven big league seasons. During that span, Harper has accumulated 30.7 WAR by FanGraphs' calculation, next to Machado's 30.2. The similarities are remarkable. The value is undeniable.

That said, neither Harper nor Machado launched out of his contract year with a rocket-boost blast.

Harper cracked 34 home runs, but his average fell from .319 in 2017 to .249, while his OPS tumbled from 1.008 to .889. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals missed the playoffs and deprived Harper of a chance to shine on the biggest stage.

As for Machado, he hit 37 home runs with a .297 average and .905 OPS between the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers. His numbers dipped after the trade to L.A., however, and he slashed .227/.278/.394 in the postseason while displaying questionable hustle.

None of that negates the immense ability of either player. But if you're going to hand a guy something close to a half-billion dollars and essentially stake your franchise on him, all the facts matter.

Now, we arrive at the biggest reason the Yankees should shove Harper and Machado to the back burner: Their greatest need isn't hitting; it's pitching.

In the ALDS against Boston, no New York starting pitcher lasted more than five innings, and, other than Masahiro Tanaka, no starter recorded more than nine outs.

Luis Severino has looked like a No. 1 for stretches but can also struggle mightily. Another top-shelf arm should be the Yankees' top priority, and they'd do well to add a couple of starters. Say, high-end free agent Patrick Corbin plus a mid-tier guy like Gio Gonzalez.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

New York also needs to address its bullpen with David Robertson and Zach Britton ticketed for free agency.

Then there's the question of where it'd put Harper and/or Machado. Harper's left-handed bat would be a welcome addition to the Yankees' righty-heavy lineup, but their outfield could be set with Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and youngster Clint Frazier. They might also exercise their one-year, $12.5 million option on veteran Brett Gardner.

Machado would fill a more obvious need at shortstop with Didi Gregorius out for at least the first two months of the season after Tommy John surgery. But Gregorius should return by the end of August, and New York is set at third base, though you can make an argument about Miguel Andujar's questionable defense.

Some will say, sign the best players and then figure out where to play them. The Yankees have a reputation for being in on the top free agents every offseason and just watched the dang Red Sox bathe in champagne.

They should be smart, however, and funnel their resources toward areas of weakness rather than gild an already potent offense by signing gaudy, knee-jerk superdeals. They won 100 games in 2018. With a little more pitching, they might have won it all.

Obviously, if by some miracle Harper's and Machado's markets don't develop as expected, New York should swoop in. That's highly unlikely, however. At this stage of the game, being cagey and borderline indifferent takes negotiating power away from the agents and their clients. Unless you're the agents or clients, that's a good thing.

The Yankees and their fans have a right to be angry. They also have an obligation to not overreact...or overspend.

   

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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