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Tribe Notes

Commentary: Call me crazy, but Indians should go after Bryce Harper

  • Nationals-Wrapup-Baseball

    Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper, looks at the baseball field from their dug out before the start of the Nationals last home game of the season against the Miami Marlins, in Washington on Sept. 26. Jim Ingraham believes a marriage between the free agent outfielder and the Indians could work well together -- even if only briefly.

    MANUEL BALCE CENETA / AP FILE

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What do you say we take a trip to Fantasyland?

This likely has no chance of happening, but a logical argument could be made that it could happen, because it’s right in what normally would be the Indians’ wheelhouse — except for the fact that the Indians no longer have a wheelhouse. Not this year, anyway.

The longer Bryce Harper remains unsigned, the more sense it makes for the Indians to at least explore whether Harper would be willing to do this: sign a one-year (with an option year?) deal with the Indians, bide his time for one more year, pad his stats — perhaps pick up a ring — then re-enter the market after the season, when maybe it loosens up, and he can find a team willing to approach that rumored $300 million package Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, was apparently shooting for this offseason.

In the past, the Indians have been known to shop this way — looking for late signing-season bargains. Two years ago, about a month before the start of spring training, they landed Edwin Encarnacion, who, after his market dried up, agreed to a three-year $60 million deal.

Harper and Boras have been fishing in far deeper waters than that, but so far, they’ve come up empty. Here’s why a brief Indians-Harper marriage could make sense.

Harper will play this year at age 26, meaning he still has plenty of time to cash in on a history-making contract following the 2019 season. If he signed for one year with the Indians, he could re-enter the market, at age 27 — still on the near side of his peak years — coming off a potentially monstrous season. Progressive Field is very friendly to power hitters who hit from the left side. There’s no telling how many homers Harper could hammer in the friendly confines at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Harper would be joining a team that is virtually a lock to make it to the postseason in 2019. That would not only give him a chance to chase a World Series ring, but to impress a prospective employer by being the biggest bopper, on the biggest stage, for a potential World Series champion.

By playing in the American League, he could still menace opposing pitchers while getting an occasional semi-day off as the DH.

For the Indians, signing Harper would go against the ownership-mandated payroll reduction that Chris Antonetti and his staff have so assiduously adhered to in all of their offseason moves.

So, this would take some massaging of ownership to cut the bean counters some slack, since Harper’s contract would likely wipe out most, if not all of the payroll-shaving that has been done this offseason. On the other hand, you’re only talking about ONE YEAR. You’re not committing to Harper for seven, eight, nine or 10 years, and somewhere between $200 and $300 million. You’re only committing for one year.

Signing Harper for one year, for somewhere around $25 million (he made $21.6 million last year with Washington), or even one year and an option — that’s still not a dangerous commitment (easy for me to say, it’s not my money).

But consider the projected boost in attendance the Indians would get by such a signing. A good part of Harper’s contract might pay for itself through season ticket and single-game ticket sales, for a team that has been stuck in an attendance rut the last few years. The buzz around the Indians would be enormous in the wake of such a signing.

The 2019 season, moreover, is probably the last season in which the Indians will have their killer starting rotation intact and in place. So why not push the financial envelope one last time, in trying to win it all, before Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer have to be traded, before they become free agents?

For one year, the Indians could have a top of the rotation of Kluber and Bauer, and a middle of the order anchored by Harper. Not to mention the fact that Harper is an outfielder, and right now, on paper, the Indians have what looks to be the weakest outfield in the major leagues.

Even in a worst-case scenario, the Indians could still salvage something out of the season. If it all goes terribly wrong, for whatever reason, trading either Kluber, Bauer or Harper — or all three — at midseason would erase a ton of money from the payroll, and net the Indians a bounty of talent in return.

So, aside from a swollen 2019 payroll, but only 2019, if Harper could be sold on the unconventional strategy of delaying by one year the mega-contract he seeks, don’t the Indians owe it to themselves to think outside the box?

For one year, why not swing for the fences with a guy who swings for them, and clears them?

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com.


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