White Sox fans have never had a top free agent signing the likes of Bryce Harper. Which is why the team should do the unthinkable and redefine themselves not only to their fans but the entire baseball world.
Anyone who has played Fantasy Baseball – and specifically Rotisserie Baseball, the statistical game that started it all – understands the art of assembling a cheap, controllable base of talent and adding key free agent pieces where it makes sense. Here’s how it usually goes in perpetual leagues.
You go into the auction armed with the best-laid plans, scads of research, and the goal of being more strategic than the other owners. But as is typical with the best-laid plans, often things go in other directions. As the first few top players get auctioned off, often times the values are higher than anticipated.
Some well-intentioned (aka “strategic”) owners hang back, saving their dollars to command the remaining players at more reasonable auction amounts. It’s somewhere between the auctioning of the top players and the remaining crop that a key realization emerges: there aren’t enough top producers left to deliver key returns as an individual contributor that can be matched by an ensemble cast. This is fondly referred to as the “Oh s***” moment.
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Oh sure, the contributions can be amortized across a number of resources, but then that puts the predicate on every one of them producing. And of course the top auction performers may suffer injury, but then again they might not. The key learning that for the few top players it’s okay to overpay for those precious few top performers because they contribute so significantly that you can afford to underpay for other contributors among the remaining talent pool.
Which is why the White Sox should aggressively pursue Bryce Harper.
Not so fast, you say. It won’t be that easy. I agree. Which is why I’ve prepared the below list of objection-hand responses to handle the nay-sayers.
Objection #1: he’ll be exorbitantly expensive.
— Response to #1: yep. So what? The team can afford it, and imagine the impact on the field and revenue the signing will generate.
Objection #2: that high contract will cause friction in the clubhouse among Ricky’s boys.
— Response A to #2: does Jose Abreu’s contract do that?
— Response B to #2: the clubhouse could use some healthy friction. And can we PLEASE stop referring to members of a Major League team as “Boys”? They’re men or at the very least Big Boys.
Objection #3: the team isn’t expected to contend in 2019.
— Response to #3: in the weakest division in baseball, says who? Seriously. Put down your purse and take the training wheels off.
Objection #4: Manny Machado is the better personal profile fit.
— Response to #4: Machado is a punk who doesn’t hustle and not a leader. He showed the world that this postseason accompanied by his own direct comments confirming it.
Objection # 5: The White Sox might get stood up.
— Response to #5: now that’s true. And if that happens, the realization that this team might struggle to recruit top talent where big market teams also play is going to be a bitter pill to swallow.
It might not be possible that the White Sox could sign a star like Harper even with the biggest offer. If that happens, Plan B will be adding top talent via trade something like Milwaukee did acquiring Christian Yelich. The cost in that approach will be prospects, which will hurt just as much as actual dollars, but the team has lots of young capital and Rick Hahn is a crafty negotiator.
I don’t see a downside of pursuing Harper. If they fall short, it will be a great piece of feedback to know what their marketability is toward top free agents. If they sign him, imagine the excitement among fans and how that would impact season ticket sales. And lo and behold, imagine a lineup that has him hitting alongside Abreu, soon Eloy Jimenez and not too far away Luis Robert.
And now a direct word to Harper in a theme of recruitment:
Bryce, you can own this town. Chicago is an iconic sports town who lionize its sports heroes, unlike any other town I’ve ever seen. It’s also a major media market and you won’t be able to hide, and likewise, the team won’t be able to hide you – so expect no loss in merchandising revenues, sponsorship opportunities and broadcast media visibility. You can take this team under your wing and be the captain as lots of incredible young players become top major leaguers. All this can be your oyster. Everywhere else you’ll be a part – a big part no doubt, but not the face of the franchise.
A word to Chicago Cubs fans: you’d better hope and pray the Sox don’t sign Harper. Because if they do, it’s going to be worse than a simple hurting. It will sting deeply. You will seethe in red-hot anger, and stew jealously in a shade of green you didn’t know existed. For at that moment, you’ll realize not a single member of your franchise is as good as the new star on the South Side that all of greater Chicagoland will want to watch play.
And finally, a word to Jerry Reinsdorf:
$300 million and up is a lot of money, but we both know the formula for Net Present Value. And to coin, a line from the film Heaven Can Wait, “We don’t care about how much it costs. We just care about how much money it makes.”
Oh, how the glow of the Hot Stove warms my heart.