ESPN - With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado scheduled to hit free agency in two years, the 2018 offseason could go down in history as the winter that broke baseball's bank. The question is, which one of them will be the most prized catch?
So this story isn't actually as crazy at it first sounds. Yes, the winter of 2018 is over two years away but it's already shaping up to be baseball's version of the 2010 NBA free agent class, which included Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh among others. As of now, assuming players use their opt out clauses and/or don't sign an extension the list of players reaching free agency at the same time is staggering.
Currently this list includes Harper, Machado, Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel, and Matt Harvey. There is a reason the Yankees did not sign a single free agent this past winter. They are in full rebuild mode with an eye on this class. Baseball isn't like basketball where one free agent signing can swing the entire direction of the league, but adding two of the above names to a group of up and coming stars sure could.
The ESPN article goes on to make the case that Machado should, and will, get paid more than Harper. Both will be 26 years old at the time of their free agency, which is insanely young. Typically guys don't test the open market until they are 28-30. The debate of who will get paid more, and who teams would rather have, is actually a really interesting one. What people forget is that Machado is a natural shortstop who could always go back to the position if he signs with a team that doesn't have a superior defensive option like the Orioles do right now. He just turned 24, is having an MVP type season, and is on track to set career high in virtually every offensive category.
Then there's Harper, who in 2015 became the youngest unanimous MVP ever. His 9.9 wins above replacement, according to baseball reference, were the most baseball had seen since Mike Trout's 10.8 WAR in 2012. He did it at just 22 years old, which made the sky the limit for his offensive potential. He started 2016 just as hot but as of today is hitting just .254 with 22 homers. It was reported a few weeks ago that he has been playing threw a shoulder injury. You have to figure that there is something going on due to an injury but it's no longer ridiculous to say Machado will be the preferred option come 2018.
Lastly there is the discussion on how much these guys are going to get paid. Baseball revenues continue to rise, the Yankees will be major players, and as stated earlier both guys will be just 26 years old. Currently the most guaranteed money every given to a MLB player was the 13 year, $325 million deal the Marlins gave Giancarlo Stanton (which has an opt out after six years). Either Harper, Machado, or both figure to break this number with reports saying it could get as high as $500 million. That would be nearly twice as much as Alex Rodriguez got as a 25-year-old in 2000. Odds are the number will be closer to $400 million but with the amount of star power in this class you never know.
For what it's worth Mike Trout would have been in this free agent class as well had he not signed a six year, $144.5 million deal back in 2014, which compared to what these guys will make is an absolute bargain for the Angels.