Debating the Bryce Harper Leverage Myth

Steve O Speak

The presumptive number 1 selection in this year’s MLB draft is a 17 year-old kid named Bryce Harper. Harper is an intriguing story because in reality he should be just a high school junior right now and ineligible for the draft. Given his prestigious talent, he got his GED over the summer so he could enter the College of Southern Nevada, a two-year Community College, making him draft eligible a year early.

Now there were many reasons for entering CSN, the first of which was to make him a better player and prospect. While the competition level of Southern Nevada isn’t on par with that of most four year universities, it is much higher than high school. Also the coaching and instruction are at a higher level which has allowed Harper to be a more well rounded player. The greatest benefit of playing at CSN from a prospect status is that Southern Nevada plays in a wood bat league. All high schools and four year universities use metal bats, making it sometimes hard to project hitters at the next level. And while there are summer leagues and tournaments that these players can play in to get evaluated, Harper definitely has an advantage playing in a wood bat regular season league. The other reason Harper left high school early is a financial one.

By entering the draft earlier he makes himself into a better prospect since he will be a year younger than any high school talent and 4-5 years younger than any of the top college players. This gives him a major advantage, given his advanced talents since he should theoretically have a longer career since he is starting it earlier. Also, by getting drafted a year earlier he will sign earlier and make the Major Leagues sooner, each equaling a good chunk of change. Lastly one of the biggest reasons to enter the draft early is the belief that changes may be on the way involving the MLB draft process, and in particular the signing bonuses. Right now as it stands teams don’t have a set limit outside of their own budget, in what they can offer players. While the League frowns on excessive spending they don’t have any recourse in forcing teams not to spend a certain amount. Now teams don’t offer blank checks, because they do use past contracts and bonuses as guides, but players can get a pretty good chunk of change. For Harper that money should well be within the $10-15 million range. If the league institutes some sort of a hard cap or slotting system, that money could go down to the $7-8 million range. While its not definitive that there will be new rules in place by 2011, it is something that both the league and teams want to tweak. Finally the last advantage of Harper coming out early is it in theory gives him more leverage in negotiations. I for one believe this leverage theory has been blown way out of proportion.

It is true that baseball prospects have more leverage than any other prospects since they can always return to school or try independent baseball. And it is also true that if Harper doesn’t like the offer he has on the table he could go back to the draft and hope for a better outcome. But the fact of the matter is that is all posturing. Harper has no advantage to return to school, and holding out till next year almost never works.

First off, you have to assume that in 2011 there won’t be rule changes to the 2011 draft format that would limit Harper’s negotiating ability. Unless there is some very clear indication by the August signing deadline then there is no way Harper can return to school. Even if there are no rule changes it makes absolutely no sense for Harper to do so. Every year he goes back he loses some luster and some leverage. Right now he is younger than any high school player, but if he goes back then he joins the high school class he was originally apart of. While he still might be the best young prospect, he would be a year older in 2011.

Also, basic economics show that by waiting a year Harper is losing money, even if he does end up getting more in 2011 (depending on how much more). Money now is always preferable to money in the future, in addition Harper can’t become a Major League free agent until he has been in the big leagues for six years. So by holding out a season Harper is putting off his free agent pay day by another year. That could potentially be tens of millions of dollars that Harper would be losing out on.Finally, when it comes to money the sooner Harper signs, the sooner he can sign endorsement deals as well. Harper can’t get sponsorship money and retain his amateur status. Not to mention that depending on where Harper gets drafted, there will be plenty of local sponsorship opportunities as well. While its hard to judge how much that could be, since MLB prospects don’t usually get the same sponsorship money that NBA and NFL ones get Harper could be the exception to that rule.

The last reason why Harper should sign this year is because I believe his leverage takes a huge hit in 2011. Right now he is by far the top prospect in the 2010 draft and much younger than any of his competitors. That’s not to say there aren’t other talented players in this class, but there is no other sure-fire number 1 pick. So by passing on Harper due to ‘signability’ you would likely be overpaying for a lesser talent. That can’t be said for the 2011 class, which is shaping up to be one of the best we’ve seen in a couple of years. If Harper does go back he could very well end up being the most talented player in that class as well, but the competition is a lot closer. Harper might still be number 1, but guys like Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Taylor Jungmann, and Matt Pruke are 1A-D. All are just as worthy of a top selection in non-Harper drafts and it is not unthinkable that one or two of them could surpass him in prospect status over the next year and a half. So if teams at the top of the draft don’t want to meet exorbitant demands, they have plenty of recourse to take another talented player as well. While Harper will get good money regardless of where he is drafted he won’t get a $15 million dollar deal in the middle of one of the deepest draft classes of the last decade. By that point Harper will lose out plenty if he decides to forgo the draft a second year and return for the 2012 draft (which will most likely have bonus rules in place).

Now this isn’t to say I don’t think Harper is worth the money or not worth the top pick. I believe fully that it is in the Nationals best interest to draft and sign Bryce Harper with the top pick in this year’s draft. Harper has destroyed the older level, wood bat competition hitting a ridiculous .431/.528/.931 (no thats not an OPS, that is his slugging percentage) with 12 home runs and 26 extra base hits through 31 games. He has the chance to be a truly elite player, especially if he can stay behind the plate where he currently projects. Even if he has to move to another position Harper is worth the top pick and a bonus in the range of $15 million. I just don’t believe this leverage fear, Harper didn’t work as hard as he did to earn his GED and give up his high school experience just so he could end up signing in his original draft class of 2011.

Related Articles

Chicago Bears News: Six Undrafted Rookies Signed, Getsy On Team’s Receiver Room, Early 2022 Predictions

Bears Bring In Six Undrafted Rookies For Tryouts, Waive Six Six Players   The Chicago Bears are bringing…

Read More about Chicago Bears News: Six Undrafted Rookies Signed, Getsy On Team’s Receiver Room, Early 2022 Predictions

How NIL Rights Impact Canadian Players

It wasn’t all that long ago the NCAA announced that there would be changes coming to the NIL…

Read More about How NIL Rights Impact Canadian Players