Yankees: Could Bryce Harper come to the Bronx as a first baseman?
To perhaps make himself more valuable as free agency approaches, Bryce Harper has begun taking reps at first base. This quickly caught the attention of most Yankees fans.
The Yankees outfield is full. Even if the club were to buyout Brett Gardner’s final year for $2.5 million, that still leaves Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Clint Frazier to man three positions and the DH spot.
Naturally, a lot will happen before 2019, such as a possible trade within the next three weeks for a starting pitcher that may or may not include the 23-year-old Frazier.
However, with general manager Brian Cashman stating that he would prefer not to deal the crown jewel of the 2016 Andrew Miller trade, there’s little room for the addition of another pricy outfielder, namely lifelong Yankee fan Bryce Harper.
In an interesting turn of events, Harper, who grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle, was spotted on Monday taking reps at first base for the Nationals, prior to their game against the Red Sox.
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Much was made of Harper recently shaving off his beard as his Nats took on the Yanks in a day/night doubleheader. Even the fact that Harper played centerfield was of note. But learning the nuances of first base could lead to something more.
Of course, it’s speculative — it’s not like Harper or his super agent Scott Boras are going to come out and say that he’s willing to move to first base to become the lynchpin of the Bombers’ infield.
Greg Bird apologists will rip the notion of Harper as the Yankees first baseman to shreds. But that is purely emotional. There’s no one in their right mind that could make a comparison of the two left-handed hitters — well not one that paints Bird in a brighter light than the 2015 NL MVP.
Cheaper, sure. Better, no way!
Both men are just 25-years-old; however, the world is already well aware of Bryce Harper’s pedigree. He’s a once in a generation type player. Bird, on the other hand, still leaves much to the imagination, which is what Greg Bird pacifists throw around like a 6-4-3 double play.
That’s because Bird has yet to play a full season since making his debut in 2015, and has only accumulated 469 career plate appearances. While his 162-game splits suggest that he COULD become a 32 home run, 82 RBI-producer, a .220/.313/.462 slash in 126 games casts legit doubt.
Injuries aside, which have only allowed Bird to play a season-high 48 games in 2017, how long will the Yankees allow Bird to “find himself?”
In his last 15 games, which includes a two home run performance against the Red Sox on June 29, Bird is still just 7-for-43 (.163 BA, .321 OBP) with four RBI and 15 strikeouts in 43 at-bats. Take out the two long balls vs. the Sox and we’re talking Neil Walker numbers.
Then there’s Harper, the career .285 hitter before this season, whose having an otherwise down year when compared to his own Ruthian standards. However, despite his Bird-like .215 batting average, Harper is still tied for the NL lead in home runs with 21.
His 18.5 percent walk rate (68 times in total, leads NL) is the highest of his career and is second in all of baseball to the great Mike Trout. Harper also has a career-high 41.1 percent hard-hit rate, which ranks him 43rd among all big leaguers.
So yes, while Harper’s batting average is down substantially, and his 24.1 strikeout percentage is up a few ticks from his 20.8 percent lifetime number, there’s no doubt he’ll be an NL All-Star for the sixth time in seven seasons — and rightfully so.
Harper, the owner of a career 26.6 WAR, is a premier athlete capable of playing every position on the field maybe except for pitcher. Remember, he was a tremendous catcher in high school and his one year of junior college ball.
On the other hand, Greg Bird is no Don Mattingly or Mark Teixeira with the glove. He’s average at best around the bag with the base running ability of Jason Giambi. And I was a big Giambi fan.
With the luxury tax resetting after this season, money will be of little concern to the Yankees, especially if they are unable to reach the World Series at least.
And while pitching is of utmost concern now and forever, should Greg Bird continue to languish in mediocrity throughout the remainder of this campaign, Bryce Harper to the Yanks could become a reality — only at a position none of us initially saw coming.
Harper’s signing, which could come at a slight discount, considering he’s having an “off year,” would solidify the first base position and left-handed stick in the middle of the Yankee lineup for the next 10 years. Harper is better than Bird in every sense of the word. It’s really that simple.
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As Nationals manager Dave Martinez recently told The Washington Post, not only is Harper a tremendous player year-in and year out but he’s willing to do whatever it takes for his team to succeed. Why wouldn’t the Yankees want that?
"“It’s just kind of him getting outside of his comfort zone and doing something different,” Martinez said. “And he’s actually not bad. I don’t know if he’ll ever start a game there, but I believe if we’re in a pinch, some kind of decisions in-game, he probably could play there. So it was good to see him out there feeling good working with [infield coach Tim Bogar]. Like I said, here’s a guy that, love him to death because he’ll do whatever it takes for this team to win and help win and that’s part of who Bryce is.”"