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Harper, Machado: Collusion?

baseballFor all the talk about collusion being the reason Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still don’t have MLB jobs, is it possible that … it’s not collusion?

What I’m thinking there is Patrick Corbin, the left-handed pitcher who signed with Washington for six years, $140 million, which is a lot for a 29-year-old, considering Corbin will be, obviously, 35 by the final year of the deal.

And then, considering the way the deal is structured, yes, it’s MLB, so it’s back-ended. In 2024, in that Age 35 year, Corbin is on the books for $35 million in base salary from the Nationals.

Emphasis: he’ll be 35 that year.

Added emphasis: this isn’t the Steroid Era, so, 35 is old.

Using Corbin as my jumping-off point, I expected, when reviewing other top free-agent signings, to find a slew of others like this deal, total value $100 million-plus, big money for guys in their mid-30s out years.

Fun fact: didn’t find that.

Any of that.

Corbin’s is the only $100 million-plus total-value deal of the 2018-2019 offseason.

The second most-lucrative deal was signed by another 29-year-old, Boston righty Nathan Eovaldi, who signed a four-year, $68 million deal, that has him on the books for $17 million in each of those four years.

Josh Donaldson, 33, signed a one-year, $23 million deal with Atlanta, and then …

We’re also waiting for Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel, 31, and Boston closer Craig Kimbrel, 30, to land somewhere.

There’s nobody near the market value of either Harper or Machado, both 26, still out there.

The surprise to me is Machado, coming off a 5.7 WAR season in 2018, split between Baltimore and Los Angeles, with three other seasons in his six full years in MLB above 6.7.

Harper is still a bit of a unicorn. The lure is his 2015, when he posted a full 10.0 WAR, which, there aren’t many of those in MLB history.

(Looked it up: it’s been done 60 times. Among current players: Mike Trout has three 10.0+ WARs; Mookie Betts has one; and that’s it.)

Problem for Harper: the past three seasons combined, his WAR, total, is 7.5, including a 1.3 WAR in 2018, when he slashed .249/.393/.496 and struck out a career-high 169 times.

If you give Harper the $400 million over 10 years that he supposedly wants, are you getting 10 years of 2015 Bryce Harper, or one or maybe two of those years, with more Albert Pujols 2.0 (The Angels Years) as the standard-issue?

Harper isn’t Trout, who also adds value with his baserunning and defense. With Harp, it’s hitting, which, for Nats fans, you know that’s a couple of weeks of him carrying your team, followed by several weeks of K’s and groundouts into the shift.

At least Machado gives you something on defense, and at two positions – third and shortstop.

And you get what you get from him consistently: his five full seasons (150+ games) have seen him post WARs of 6.7 (2013), 7.1 (2015), 6.9 (2016), 3.4 (2017) and 5.7 (2018).

Harper has only played more than 150 games in a season once, his 2015 MVP season.

He’s had four career WARs better than Machado’s worst season: 5.2 in his rookie season, 2012, 3.7 (2013), 10.0 (2015) and 4.7 (2017).

He’s also had three seasons in the 1s: 1.1 (2014), 1.5 (2016) and 1.3 (2017).

Harper played 100 games in 2014, 147 games in 2016 and 159 games in 2018.

The one season that I left out for Machado was his 2014 year that was cut short by injury. He only played 82 games in 2014, and still had a 2.3 WAR that year.

The fact that Machado is still unemployed is a sign of something untoward.

The Harper situation, I can understand, why GMs would want to kick the tires before buying there.

Don’t be surprised, of course, to see him get the higher average-annual-value contract when the dust settles.

The unicorn effect will be at play in that.

Machado, though, will get the longer-term deal. Maybe not 10 years, but a good six or seven.

Harper gets three, four, guaranteed, maybe longer announced, with an out for both sides, around his Age 29 or 30 year.

Nothing like the reported 10-year, $300 million he was apparently offered by the Nats back in September or anything.

Column by Chris Graham