The mega class of free agents currently scheduled to hit the streets at the completion of the 2018 season is setting up to be one of the greatest collections of free agents all-time. Of course all of these players will need to make it through arbitration, opt out of current contracts, or avoid signing long term extensions with their current teams in order to make it a reality. Make no mistake about it, the Yankees 2018 free agency plan has been building for a few years now.
The short list of bigtime players on the list include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, and David Price all age 33 or younger. There are others that can join the group if their 2018 contract options are exercised or if they did not invoke their opt-out clauses. That list includes the likes of Craig Kimbrel and Andrew McCutchen just to name a couple. The Yankees will have carved off almost every “wasted” long term contract at that point and the big city boys could be looking to spend if prospects are not developing as hoped. So who are the clubhouse interest leaders heading into Yankees 2018 free agency planning? Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are the clear number one and number two in Yankees 2018 free agency planning.. Adam Solowiei and Rich Stowe discuss that very topic in another edition of Yankees Roundtable.
Yankees 2018 Free Agency: Harper or Machado
ADAM’S TAKE – I am obligated to start this out by offering the following pipe dream. I will take both and walk away smiling. Of course that is not likely to happen and we are more than likely talking about a choice between the two. With many months still ahead and prospects to develop along with other items, I will lean towards Bryce Harper. For as long as I have been hearing about Bryce Harper, I feel like he should already be 35 years old. Of course that is not the case, not even close. He will be 26 when he hits free agency (assuming the Nationals do not get a long term deal done) which implies that the 10-year deal will be for all his prime years.
Harper is arguably a generational talent who grew up not shying away from the spotlight. In his first five years with the big boys he has hit .279 with a .501 slugging percentage and an OPS of .883. He already has 121 home runs, scored 412 runs, and has a career WAR of 21.5. He is a four time all-star with a 2012 Rookie of the Year and 2015 MVP award to his credit. The Yankees have been positioning to handle the mega contract that Harper will ask for and they should have no issue meeting his demands.
RICH’S TAKE – Totally agree, that in a perfect world, the Yankees would simply sign both of these great young players and proceed right to the World Series. However, chances are we both know the Yankees will only be able to sign one, and my choice would be Manny Machado. When he hits free agency, he will be 26 as well, so age is not a factor between the two players. To compare stats, in Machado’s first 5 years, he’s hit 105 home runs, scored 357 runs, and has a career WAR of 24.4. He’s been an all-star 3 times, won 2 Gold Gloves at 3B, has one top-10 MVP finish and 2 top-5 MVP finishes.
The Yankees are full of outfield prospects as well as infield prospects. The difference is the Yankees currently do not have any 3B prospects – the majority of their infield prospects are shortstops that would have to be converted to other positions to see time with the MLB club. If they sign Machado, they do not have to worry about converting one of these prospects to third, and they can instead, trade one or more of them for starting pitching which is a huge need that the Yankees currently do not have the prospects for the future.
One final thing to consider is the injury history of both players. Machado’s pretty much only missed time in 2014 due 2 different knee surgeries (one at the end of 2013 and another in 2014). Harper has missed significant time in 2013 and 2014. While I do think the majority of Harper’s injury time is due to his balls-to-the-wall style, it has to be taken into consideration.
ADAM’S TAKE (2) – If you are going to discuss injury it is best to break down what we are talking about here. It’s true that Harper has missed time due to injury but it is important to remember what the injuries were. He has missed time with a hip injury (running into the wall), his ribs (same affliction), his back (can you guess why), and it was revealed that he had right shoulder and neck soreness that plagued him last year. He is young and emotionally charged and plays aggressive. He goes for every ball and that leads to the wall from time to time. He averaged 150 games the last two years and does not have a surgery to his name. He appears to be playing a bit smarter over the last year and a half as well.
Meanwhile, Machado has already been under the knife twice. He went under on his right knee for a partial medial patellar femoral ligament tear in 2014 and the previous year had surgery on his left knee for a complete tear of the medial patellar femoral ligament. At his age, he had surgery on both knees already. While he has fully recovered it is concerning to consider the structure of his knees long-term.
Another thing to consider here is that unlike Machado, Harper bats lefty. 81 times a year Harper will be at Yankee Stadium drooling over the short porch in right-field. It is not out of the question to see 50 home run seasons in his future with that number of games in the House That Jeter Built. After all, Harper grew up in Las Vegas but has been a Yankee fan for life. That has to amp him up every time he steps on the field at Yankee Stadium.
I am sure we are going to talk about last season for both since it is the easiest to compare. Machado had a monster year in 2016 but Harper had right shoulder/neck injury that plagued him in the second half of last season. An injury to plague him since June. Even with that, Harper walked 60 more times than Machado, stole 20 more bases, and was not far off in home runs, runs, and RBI. He did have a low batting average but I am willing to forgive him the year.
RICH’S TAKE (2) – You are right that the injuries for each player are different and thus are to be considered differently. However, it appears that Machado is well past his knee problems, whereas Harper seems to have a multitude of various injuries and I wonder if they were the cause of his “down” 2016 which you brought up and will they become a problem going forward as well (nagging injuries that bug him for the remainder of his career). Back problems especially can be problematic, and as Yankees fans, we both know that it was a bad back that curtailed Don Mattingly‘s shot at the Hall of Fame.
The cost of acquiring each may be the final decision maker. Harper may well be the first guy to ask for and potentially receive a 500 million dollar contract. If that is what he is asking for, Machado may be much cheaper, plus with other outfielders such as Jason Heyward that may be available, the Yankees may be able to get Machado plus a “lower tier” free agent outfielder and still cost less than what Harper will be asking for.
I think we can both agree that both players are young with fantastic careers ahead of them. The Yankees would be lucky to get one of these players and would hit the jackpot if they can get both.
WRAP-UP– The debate will not be resolved here but as Rich pointed out at the end of his last point, both Adam and Rich agree that the addition of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or both are key decision points in Yankees 2018 free agency maneuvering. They are splitting hairs between two incredible players that should be targeted in Yankees 2018 free agency actions. There are years between this discussion and free agency so we will see what unfolds.
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