Nationals Contract Recoup Tracker: July 30

Last Update July 30

Player Performance Value: $1186,200 M

Team on track to recoup by: Recouped

15 players have recouped their contract value this year.

Player Salary WAR Value % Recoup by Game
Taylor $508,900 1.6 $11,200,000
Ross $512,800 1.2 $8,400,000
Harper $3,750,000 6.4 $44,800,000
Barrett $514,200 0.7 $4,900,000
Espinosa $1,800,000 2.1 $14,700,000
Rivero $516,500 0.5 $3,500,000
Robinson $525,000 0.5 $3,500,000
Treinen $512,800 0.3 $2,100,000
Jordan $529,600 0.3 $2,100,000
Escobar $6,500,000 1.5 $10,500,000
Storen $5,700,000 1.3 $9,100,000
Zimmermann $12,000,000 2.6 $18,200,000
Gonzalez $8,400,000 1.8 $12,600,000
Cole $516,500 0.1 $700,000
Scherzer $27,000,000 4.8 $33,600,000
Span $9,000,000 1.4 $9,800,000
Ramos $3,550,000 0.5 $3,500,000 99% 100
Strasburg $7,400,000 0.9 $6,300,000 85% 116
Thornton $3,500,000 0.4 $2,800,000 80% 124
Rendon $1,800,000 0.2 $1,400,000 78% 127
Lobaton $1,200,000 0.1 $700,000 58% 170
Janssen $5,000,000 0.3 $2,100,000 42% 236
Fister $11,400,000 0.3 $2,100,000 18% 537
Grace $516,500 0 $0 0%
McLouth $5,375,000 0 $0 0%
Stammen $2,250,000 0 $0 0%
Desmond $8,750,000 -0.3 -$2,100,000 -24%
Werth $18,000,000 -0.7 -$4,900,000 -27%
Zimmerman $16,666,667 -0.7 -$4,900,000 -29%
Johnson $1,000,000 -0.1 -$700,000 -70%
Carpenter $780,000 -0.1 -$700,000 -90%
Uggla $529,600 -0.1 -$700,000 -132%
Solis $529,600 -0.1 -$700,000 -132%
Hill $529,600 -0.1 -$700,000 -132%
den Dekker $512,972 -0.2 -$1,400,000 -273%
Roark $529,600 -0.4 -$2,800,000 -529%
Moore $518,200 -0.4 -$2,800,000 -540%

Again this year, we decided to keep a running total of the value measured in fWAR  compared to the players current contracts.   The cost per WAR I am using is $7M, the average of free agent contracts. The player salary is either the actual arbitration / CBA salary or the Average Annual Value (AAV) of a long term free agent contract.  For example: Werth is making $21M this year but his AAV for the 7 year contract is $18M.  The Scherzer contract is very strange with deferred payment, so I went with Players Association $189M/7yr current value of the contract

Judge Matt Williams by his decisions, not his results

Joe Ross began the bottom of the 7th inning Saturday night with a 2-1 lead. After giving up a game-tying home run to Lucas Duda–who had already homered that game–Matt Williams’ critics pounced. He should have gone to the bullpen. Why is Ross still out there? What was he thinking???

Well. Sending Ross back out for the 7th inning wasn’t an entirely unreasonable decision. Sure, this was his third time through the batting order, but Ross’ pitch count was low at 84 pitches. He was cruising. He had only given up two hits all game. Of course, Ross was set to face Lucas Duda, and Duda had already homered earlier in game. But the bases were empty. It was reasonable to trust Ross just as much, if not more, than a reliever in that situation. 

Had Williams gone to the bullpen to start the 7th inning, and the reliever gave up the tying run, Williams would have been crushed by his critics for pulling Ross too early.

On Saturday night, detractors of Matt Williams criticized the results, not the decision-making. Of course, if Williams had a time machine he would go back and choose a different pitcher to start the 7th inning Saturday night (we hope). But based on the information available at the time, Williams didn’t make a mistake, at least not a grievous one.

Using this same standard, though, Williams did make some pretty huge mistakes in the 8th inning Saturday night. Williams decided to start the inning with Matt Thornton, when Drew Storen was rested and available (I wrote a little bit about that last night). While Thornton might have been a better matchup for the first two hitters that inning, he certainly wasn’t once Yoenis Cespedes came to the plate. With a runner on second and one out with Cespedes batting, there’s little doubt Storen would have been the better option rather than leaving Thornton in the game. Instead, Williams opted to intentionally walk Cespedes to set a lefty-lefty matchup with Thornton and Duda. Ordinarily, this would playing the percentages and therefore defensible, but there was information available to Williams at the time he made the decision which made it completely bat shit crazy.

1. Storen was still available. Williams chose not to use Storen at all that inning (indeed he didn’t use him all series). After Thornton grooved a fastball to Curtis Granderson to put a runner in scoring position, Storen should have been off his ass and throwing. If the Mets take the lead in the bottom of the 8th, the game is likely over. With the Mets two best hitters coming up with a runner in scoring position and the game on the line, that’s the time to put your best reliever on the mound.

2. Duda isn’t any less dangerous in that situation. Cespedes is a legitimate power threat, slugging close to .500 on the season. But Duda isn’t far behind (near .480 with a higher on base percentage than Cespedes). Moreover, Duda already had two home runs that game. Why would any manager choose to have him batting again–with two runners on base? Also, it wasn’t just Saturday. Duda hit six home runs that week. Duda is the one Met you don’t want batting with the game on the line right now, yet that’s the one Williams chose. 

3. There was no platoon advantage. This is the final nail in coffin. Williams presumably walked Cespedes to “play the percentages” but Cespedes actually has a significant platooon disadvatage against lefty pitchers this season (he was batting .183 to .318 vs. righties). His career numbers aren’t as dramatic, but the platoon split is still there. Duda, meanwhile has a platoon advantage against lefties this season (almost 75 batting average points). Duda has better numbers against righties for his career, but in this situation its wiser to use the more recent numbers. Duda, like a lot of lefty sluggers, struggled against lefties early in his career. The more recent numbers suggest he’s figured it out. Thornton versus Duda in that situation wasn’t the advantage Williams thought it was. 

The Nationals lost a close game on Saturday. That by itself doesn’t mean Matt Williams blew it. The decisions made by Williams, however, showed bad judgment. Yes, the players have to perform. But a manager’s job is to put his players in the best position to succeed. That fact that Williams didn’t do that on Saturday night is more than troubling. 

What in the world is Matt Williams doing with his bullpen?

It’s not news that I am not a fan of Matt Williams’ bullpen management. I wrote this last April

I wish I could say Matt Williams’ bullpen management was a mystery. If it was a mystery, there might be a revolutionary and ultimately satisfying explanation for how he’s managing this team. Unfortunately we know exactly what’s happening. Williams assigns his relievers certain roles and he refuses to deviate from his plan. In series like this weekend, it causes problems, and likely loses ballgames.

Three months later, Williams hasn’t changed. He’ll probably never change. He still assigns roles his relievers–sometimes roles that don’t make sense–and then refuses to deviate. Friday and Saturday against the Mets, neither Drew Storen nor Jonathan Papelbon pitched. Each night, the Nationals surrendered a late lead to the 2nd place team in their division while Williams’ two best relievers sat in the bullpen, unused.

I could complain about this for the 589th time, but there’s no point. Matt Williams is Matt Williams. If he cared what other people thought, he would have changed by now. In the wreckage of the 2014 NLDS, I tried to explain Matt Williams’ Mattiness:

Unlike many MLB managers, Matt Williams was a star player. He didn’t bounce from level to level and team to team. He played 16 of his 17 MLB seasons with only two teams. Over half of his nearly 7600 MLB plate appearances were from the cleanup spot. Matt Williams was a player who didn’t see a lot of change in his career. There’s a good chance he believes a chunk of his success came from this consistency. Every day, same team, same place in the order. Stability led to success over time.

So instead of complaining about Williams, which is entirely unproductive, I want to figure out what he’s doing. If we can predict what Matty’s behavior–and it’s obvious by now he is predictable–maybe we can save ourselves a little bit of stress on gameday.

1. Papelbon will not be used on the road unless it’s a save situation. Papelbon reportedly asked for assurances he would be the closer in DC before agreeing to waive his no trade clause. Once arriving, Papelbon told reporters he wants to break Mariano Rivera’s career saves record. Now, it would be nice if nobody cared about meaningless statistics like “saves” but that doesn’t appear to be the case. On Friday night, Williams had plenty of opportunities in the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th innings to use Papelbon, but chose not to, presumably saving him for a save situation (that never arrived). During home games, it remains to be seen how Williams will use Papelbon when a game goes to extra innings.

2. Storen won’t be used before the 9th inning unless it’s a save situation. Papelbon’s arrival bumped Storen to a setup role in the 8th inning. This is exactly how he was used in Thursday’s 1-0 win against the Marlins. On Saturday against the Mets however, Williams turned to Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett in the 8th, despite Storen being rested and ready to go. In the top of the 9th, with the Nats losing 3-2, Storen started to warm up. This likely means he would have been used in the bottom of the 9th if the Nats tied the game in the top of the inning. If the Nats took the lead, Papelbon would have pitched…of course.

3. Everything else is a mystery. We know Tanner Roark is the long relief guy. If the starter can’t make it to the 6th inning, he’s probably pitching. If it’s not time for Storen yet, Williams will try to get by with some combination of Thornton, Janssen, Rivero, and Barrett. Whether Williams uses the right guy at the right time, we’ll just have to put our faith the reigning National League Manager of the Year.

Additional thoughts on the Jonathan Papelbon trade (Drew Storen fans won’t like it)

I wrote a quick analysis of the Jonathan Papelbon trade yesterday. You can read that here. In short: the pitching staff is stronger and price was right. Here are some additional thoughts.

1. Drew Storen needs to get over it. Storen clearly expressed his frustration with the trade during his comments after yesterday’s game. I understand Storen is a fan favorite and many fans feel the same way. I like Drew Storen too, but I’m afraid I can’t joint the chorus of fans who think Storen is entitled to pitch the 9th inning and the 9th inning only. Bottom line: this trade makes the Nationals a better team and that’s the only thing that matters. I understand Storen wants to pitch the 9th inning. That’s fine. Tanner Roark probably wanted to remain a starting pitcher. Anthony Rendon probably wanted to stay at third base. Players can have preferences, but they’re not entitled to anything. This leads to my next, more important, point…

2. The 9th inning is overrated. The current generation of pitchers (Storen included) grew up in a world where closers were venerated and every other reliever was treated as a second class citizen. Many fans seem to have this view as well (although the tide is shifting thanks to the sabermetric movement). A Nats fan on Twitter today equated this trade to Storen being benched. This is complete nonsense. Storen didn’t lose his job. His job is to pitch out of the Nats bullpen and get opposing hitters out. He has a same job, but in a different office in the same building. Pitching in the 8th inning requires the same level of skill as the 9th, and Storen has an opportunity to excel in this role. Yesterday, I cited the 2014 Royals as an example of a team with multiple “closers” who dominated the playoffs last year by having three lights-out relievers pitch the 7th, 8th,and 9th innings. Critics of this trade are focusing way too much on the 9th and not enough on the 8th inning where the Nats are considerably stronger on the mound. Of course, many critics of the trade also pointed to Storen’s financial situation, which leads to my next point…

3. Storen will still get paid. Many have argued Storen will suffer financially from this trade, as closers are compensated higher than “middle relievers” during arbitration and free agency. Well. Tyler Clippard, the Nats “8th inning guy” received $8.3 million this season–his final year of arbitration–despite being “demoted” to middle relief in 2012, where he only acquired one save in 2013 and 2014 combined. In fact, Clippard is 9th highest paid reliever in baseball this season. In total, five of the top 10 paid relievers in baseball earned their pay as setup men. The narrative is shifting as a new generation of general managers appropriately value performance more than a hallow statistic like saves. In any event, Storen has already acquired that “proven closer” label–to the extent teams still value that distinction. His first half this season puts him in that fraternity of relief pitchers ignorant general managers pay big money to pitch the 9th inning. Also…

4. This move is temporary. Papelbon is signed through 2016, which makes it likely Storen will be traded this offseason, probably to a team that needs a “proven closer.” As stated above, Storen is likely to command a elite relief pitcher money through arbitration, which makes it likely Rizzo will move his salary for assets controllable beyond 2016. If this sounds familiar, it’s exactly what happened with Tyler Clippard. Fans won’t like it, but the Yunel Escobar trade worked out well for the Nats. Rizzo has a good chance to fill holes in his roster this offseason by moving Storen, who will have a high trade value should he perform in the second half like he did in the first. Speaking of which…

5. I expect Storen to pitch well in the 8th inning. Storen pitched well as the “7th inning guy” last season prior to his assignment as the closer late in the 2014 season. Yes, Storen will need to adjust his mindset. But–and I mean this in the nicest way possible–if a move to the 8th inning causes Storen to mentally implode, he’s probably not the guy you want on the mound in the 9th inning of the World Series.

Finally, one note about Papelbon–you know, the guy the Nats actually traded for yesterday…

6. Papelbon really wanted out of Philadelphia. The financial details weren’t known yesterday when I wrote my review of the trade, but Papelbon is guaranteed $11 million dollars next season. Prior to the trade, Papelbon had a vesting option that would guarantee $13 million if he finished 14 more games this season, which seemed highly likely over two months of baseball. If money were Papelbon’s primary motivation, he would have stayed in Philadelphia and let his option vest. Instead, he accepted $2 million less to come to DC. All day yesterday we heard reports of “demands” by Papelbon to waive his no-trade clause to Washington. At the end of the day, Papelbon wanted this trade as badly as the Nats.

Analysis: Jonathan Papelbon traded to the Nationals

Many of you hate this trade. I understand. You hate Papelbon and don’t want to root for him. You like Drew Storen and hate the fact that Papelbon bumped him to the 8th inning.

But this is a good trade for the Nationals and you should be happy. This makes them a better team today than they were yesterday, and the price was reasonable.

First things first, Drew Storen will be fine. He’s a pro. He was a good pitcher last season in a setup role and he will be again. This isn’t a punishment for Drew. This is simply a move to make the Nats a stronger team. And no, Storen won’t be traded this season. This team needs him. In fact, this trade is more about gaining Storen as a setup man as much as it’s about gaining Papelbon to close.

Drew Storen did an excellent job as closer. But the Nationals needed help getting to the closer–getting to the 9th inning. After trading Tyler Clippard in the off-season, there was a hole on this roster that was never properly filled. Blake Trienen and Aaron Barrett could have emerged as valuable set setup men this season, but they didn’t. Several pitchers–Matt Thornton, Felipe Rivero, and even Casey Janssen–have done well lately. But the Nats are looking to win the World Series. There’s no better formula than a lights out bullpen. The Kansas City Royals last season were unstoppable in the playoffs because they had three elite relievers for the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. The Nats are now in an enviable position to have to Storen pitch the 8th and Papelbon the 9th. With Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmerman set to start games 1 and 2 of a playoff series, the Nats look like they finally have a complete pitching staff.

Nationals fans watched Tyler Clippard get traded from Oakland to the Mets yesterday. The sentimental move would have been for the Nats to trade for Clippard and give him his old role in the 8th inning. Rizzo set his sights higher. There were three elite closers available-Papelbon, Kimbrel, and Chapman-and Rizzo kicked the tires on all of them. In the end he chose the best reliever he could for the most reasonable price.  For the trade itself, it has all the Rizzo hallmarks. He not only filled a critical need, he dealt from strength and preserved his organization’s best assets. Lucas Giolito, AJ Cole, Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez–the Nats 5 best starting pitching prospects–stay put. Nick Pivetta–the AA pitcher traded to Philadelphia–may turn into a fine pitcher, but this is a loss the Nats can afford.

Importantly, Papelbon will stay with the Nationals through 2016. He’s not a half season rental. Storen may be traded this offseason, but right now he’s locking down the 8th inning. For a team that struggled to get to its closer at times this season, that’s a great thing.

Is the Cable TV Bubble shrinking and did the Nats miss their window?

An article on Sports Business Daily about ESPN’s shrinking customer base caught my attention today. ESPN, by far the most profitable cable channel, peaked in customers May 2011 at just over 100 million subscribers. They are now closer to 93 million, their lowest total since 2007.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Cable TV has become increasing expensive and services like Netlix and Amazon make it easy for customers to receive quality television content without paying $200 a month to Comcast or Time Warner.

To understand the reason for ESPN’s “demise” it’s important to understand the business model of Cable TV networks. ESPN, while unquestionably the king of cable, lived in a palace built on quicksand. ESPN’s model is simple: corner the market on popular live sports programming (like Monday Night Football) and then charge exorbitant monthly fees to cable companies to deliver their network to the customer. The last time I checked, ESPN charged cable companies like Comcast over $6 a month for the right to deliver the ESPN family of networks into your home. The cost of course is passed on to you, which is why you pay so much for cable. Through “bundling” non-sports fans don’t even have the option to avoid paying over $6 a month for a channel they don’t watch. Your grandmother who doesn’t even watch sports still pays over $70 a year for ESPN.

You can see why the model is unsustainable. Other channels sought to mimic ESPN’s success, such as Turner Broadcasting (TBS and TNT) and on a regional level, networks like MASN. This, of course, directly relates to the Nationals, who are currently at the mercy of their MLB-negotiated contract of adhesion, but one day hope to own their own cable rights. The Phillies, Dodgers, and other teams cashed in on the Sports TV Bubble, signing long-term deals with local cable channels who in theory pass on high-subscriber fees to local cable customers—whether they watch baseball or not.

As the price of cable started to outgrow the demand for the product, younger customers started to “cut the cord” in favor of Netlix and cable providers like Verizon started to offer non-sports cable packages. As this trend continues—and it’s hard to imagine a reason why it won’t–the value of sports programming will shrink. There are a few implications here for the Washington Nationals:

-Even if the Nationals achieve their dream of winning their TV rights back from MASN, the rewards of that victory will be less than they were in 2011, the peak of the Cable TV Bubble according to ESPN’s numbers. The Dodgers fueled their outrageous spending spree the past few seasons by signing a cable deal at the peak of the bubble. From the outside, that deal now looks like a disaster. The cable company fueling the Dodgers spending spree is having trouble getting the Dodgers’ cable network on the air as some providers refuse to pay the fee necessary to make the deal profitable. In a future where many young DC residents don’t even have cable, and non-sports fans won’t pay for a cable package containing a newly-formed Washington Nationals Sports Network, it’s almost impossible to imagine a Dodger-sized deal in DC.

-It’s worth noting this trend may impact the litigation with MLB, the Orioles, and MASN. The Nationals are guaranteed “fair market value” under the existing contract, which of course will be less if the value for sports programming decreases. However, the MASN contract situation is so complicated, this is barely worth bringing up. There are so many factors in the MASN case, it’s impossible to predict how the existence of declining cable customers will affect it.

-It’s also worth noting that no one trend happens in a vacuum. Declining cable customers may hurt the overall value of sports programming, but sports programming by itself has never been more valuable to advertisers. The trend in entertainment, as you know, is away from live TV. As customers turn towards Netflix they turn away from ads. Desperate advertisers will continue value programming like baseball games. Pretty soon Nationals fans may be the only people watching TV ads in the DC area on a nightly basis. While the overall trends seem to be hurting the value of sports programming, the situation is far from bleak for teams like the Nats who depend on television as a main source of revenue.

-This is the most important point. As artificial demand for sports TV programming disappears, teams will be forced to compete for your dollar. The Nats will have huge incentive to grow the fan base, rather than sit on the fact that millions are forced to buy the product whether it’s good or not. Teams will fight to get you in the stadium and they’ll be forced to be competitive on the field, lest they lose their TV audience. In other words, capitalism will force the Nats to get better at everything, from quality of play to presentation of the product. Aside from your grandmother’s smaller cable bill, that’s the best possible outcome.

Plunk Votto

I really detest the Unwritten Rules of Baseball. It’s beyond annoying to see players like Brian McCann try to police the fun out of baseball or enforce amorphous “codes” nobody quite agrees on (no bunting for base hits during a shift!).

I don’t ordinarily believe in policing-by-beaning. A player “showboats” after hitting a home run? Get him out next time. Hitter breaks up a no-hitter with a bunt? Too bad. Player steals a base when his team is leading by 10? Why do you care? 

But I draw the line somewhere, and that’s when another team recklessly puts your own players at the risk of physical harm. Earlier this season, the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons slid way too late into the 3rd base, with his spikes up and right into Yunel Escobar. It was a reckless and dangerous play, and Escobar left the game with an injury. Thankfully it wasn’t a serious injury, but it could have been worse. 

Was Simmons trying to hurt Escobar? Maybe, but probably not. He was probably trying to do a “hard” slide to knock the ball away from the fielder (it worked). Either way, I had no problem when the Nats retaliated later in the game, beaning Simmons his next time up. Simply put, the Nats can’t let other teams physically intimidate them. The Nats shouldn’t ever start a beanball war, but they shouldn’t be afraid to fight back if another team starts one. 

Fast forward to last night. Tony Cingrani intentionally hit Bryce Harper. Is there a chance the pitch just slipped? Sure, but it’s not likely. The Reds were leading by 2. There was a runner on second. First base was open and best hitter in the league stood in the batters box. It’s a classic intentional walk or pitch-around situation. Cingrani did neither. He hit Bryce in the back with the first pitch. Some pitchers, after hitting the batter, apologize to the hitter, to let them know it wasn’t intentional. Cingrani turned his back and walked back to the mound. 

The Nationals can’t let this become a trend. If teams are too chicken shit to pitch to Bryce Harper, that’s fine. But they can’t let teams throw at him. That’s dangerous, and frankly there’s too much as stake. 

Gio Gonzalez: put one right in the middle of Joey Votto’s back, and let’s hope both teams are content to leave at that. 

What would a Bryce Harper contract extension look like?

When does Harper become eligible for free agency?

After the 2018 season. After this current season, he has three more seasons in a Nationals uniform before he’s eligible for free agency.

When would the Nationals negotiate a contract extension with Harper?

Probably after this season. Generally, the closer a player gets to free agency, the less likely he is to sign a contract extension.

In recent history, Mike Rizzo has attempted to sign players to contract extensions two years before they’re eligible for free agency (examples: Desmond, Zimmerman, Zimmermann). If Harper finishes this season how he started, however, there will be no reason to wait. If Harper gets 2 years away of free agency, there may be no turning him back. Just a hunch.

How many years would a Bryce Harper contract extension be?

Best guess: 15 years. Harper signed a 2-year contract last offseason, so any extension would cover his last 2 years of team control in 2017-18, plus an undetermined number of free agency years. But how many?

Harper is unique in the modern era in that he’s likely to be an elite player reaching free agency at the age of 26. Compare Harper to last elite player to hit to the free agent market, Robinson Cano, who did so at age 31. Also consider the young player Harper has most been compared to lately, Kris Bryant. Bryant didn’t make his MLB debut until this season at age 23. Under baseball’s current arbitration rules, Bryant won’t hit the free agency until age 30.

Harper’s situation is doubly unique considering a hitter’s prime is usually considered to be the seasons between ages 26-32. Ordinarily, teams pay for the tail end of someone’s prime (like in the case of Cano and Bryant), and then a few decline years, depending on how great the player is. For players like Cano, teams have been willing to overpay well into the twilight years, content they’ll be getting a few years of that player’s prime. Cano was signed for 10 years until his age 40 season. If Harper were a free agent, the team signing him would be getting his entire prime. If a team was willing to pay Robinson Cano until he’s 40 just to guarantee a few years of his prime, it’s hard to imagine what a team would be willing to pay for all the seasons of Harper’s.

The best comparison right now is Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a mammoth 13-year, $325 million contract last offseason. The Marlins bought out the last two years of Stanton’s arbitration years and then the first 11 of Stanton’s free agency years. Stanton would have become a free agent at age 27. He’ll now be in Miami until he’s 37.

The Nationals would likely need to pay Harper through at least age 37 and probably age 38, too. That would be 13 possible free agent years plus 2 years of arbitration totaling a 15 year contract. Other players have been signed long-term through age 40, Cano or Miguel Cabrera for example. But those players were considerably older than Harper. The above-outlined contract extends Harper 16 years into the future. Nobody has done that before, and it’s hard to imagine an MLB team going further.

How much money would it take?

This is the crazy part. The free agent years of Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension are actually at a discount at an average annual value of just over $27 million a year. Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Mike Trout, and Clayton Kershaw have all recently signed for an average annual value above $30 million, which appears to be the current market value of an elite player. Assuming Harper finishes this season like he started it, he’ll line up for a comparable average annual value as well. But here’s the thing. Kershaw’s, Trout’s, Scherzer’s, and Cabrera’s contracts expire in 2020, 2020, 2021, and 2023, respectively. Using the above timeline, Harper’s extension would run through 2031. Factoring in inflation, Harper’s average annual value would far exceed even what Mike Trout—the undisputed best player baseball–was guaranteed in what would have been his first year of free agency under his current contract extension ($34 million). For Harper, $40 million a year is safe benchmark, and based on the rising salaries in recent baseball history, I can’t go below it. Even using the current standard metric to determine free agent salaries, $6 million per Win Above Replacement (WAR), $40 million a year is a bargain. Harper, one third of the way into this season, has just above 4 WAR. Even if his hitting levels off (it will) and he finishes with 7-8 WAR, Harper gave the Nats $42-48 million worth of “value” this season.

What’s the total?

An average annual value of $40 million for 13 years equals $520 million. Adding in Harper’s final two years of arbitration (estimated at $15 and $25 million), my best guess for Harper’s contract extension is 15 years and $560 million.

Would Harper do it?

It has long been assumed that Scott Boras will take Harper to free agency, because Scott Boras usually takes his clients to free agency.

But look at that number again.

Boras normally takes his clients to free agency because he correctly measures the market and determines it’s the best way to get the best value. As crazy as it sounds, MLB teams’ profits are still outrunning player salaries in growth, and they have been for a long time. Boras knows this, which is why he wants 30 profitable teams bidding for his clients. Boras doesn’t want his clients to sign for market rates. He wants his clients to reset the market.

In that spirit, $560 million resets the market, does it not? Normally teams sign players to below market extensions in exchange for giving the player security and certainty. Harper is unlikely to make such a trade. He’ll need tomorrow’s prices today. If the Nats offer it, Boras isn’t above asking his client to accept it.

On the other hand, Harper would be attaching himself to the same team for his entire career. This begs the question: does he want to play his entire career in DC? Harper is a self-professed student of the game, who understands the value of wearing one uniform his entire career. The student of the game argument works both ways, however. What baseball history enthusiast wouldn’t want to wear the Yankee pinstripes or play in Fenway Park or Wrigley Field every day?

Even if the Nats offer Bryce free agent money before free agency, he’s still trading the right to choose his baseball legacy. That might be the determining factor.

One huge caveat: Boras often works opt-out clauses into his free agent contracts. Opt-out clauses allow players minimize their risk if player salaries continue to rise. The Nationals have never given an opt-out clause, but it would probably be a condition of re-signing Harper. Stanton’s contract had one, for what it’s worth.

Would the Nats do it?

A qualified yes. The Nationals don’t have the revenue streams (yet) of a big market team, but they’re not afraid to spend money. Remember that the Nationals just offered the biggest free agent pitching contract in MLB history last offseason. They also weren’t afraid to reset the free agent outfielder market by signing Jayson Werth in 2011. The Werth contract looked crazy back then, but compare it now to the Shin Soo-Choo contract last offseason (7 years/$130 million). The Nationals didn’t misread the market on Werth, they were just ahead of it. If you still think the Jayson Werth contract was a “big contract” you haven’t been paying attention the past couple of years. Once David Price and next year’s free agent pitchers begin signing next year, Max Scherzer’s contract won’t look so large either.

At the same time, the Nats have been positioning themselves financially. They walked away from negotiations with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann when both demanded more money the Nationals were comfortable paying. They haven’t even attempted negotiations with Stephen Strasburg or Doug Fister, to my knowledge. They traded Tyler Clippard instead of trying to re-sign him. The lesson isn’t that the Nats are cheap (Scherzer disproved that). The lesson is they’re only comfortable throwing money at places where money should be thrown.

If you’re going to spend money, Bryce Harper is the player you pay. The primary reason: age. It’s rare to see a free agent hit the market so young. The same reason he’ll be so expensive is the same reason he’ll probably be worth it. By signing Harper, even for the insane amount of money listed above, you’re guaranteeing the prime of a likely Hall of Famer. Something like that is priceless. Almost.