Bryce Harper, a National League MVP at 23, is a free agent at 26, peddling his services in an industry that’s grown to nearly $11 billion in annual revenues. His combination of skills, age and marketing cachet make him an excellent fit for any major league franchise.
Including the Texas Rangers.
Harper, who has 184 career home runs and a lifetime .900 OPS, rejected a 10-year, $300 million contract offer from the Washington Nationals in September, and is a good bet to set a new standard for the most lucrative contract in North American sports history.
It may take weeks for that process to play out. In the meantime, USA TODAY Sports will examine why every team could use Harper’s services – some more than others, certainly some better-equipped to procure them.
A case for Harper and the Rangers joining forces:
On the field
Perhaps no team in the major leagues will look as different as the Rangers over the life of a Harper contract – which figures to land in the range of say, 12 years and $420 million.
The Rangers are currently in the throes of a rebuild.
They have just one season remaining at their current home, Globe Life Park, long a hitter’s haven.
There’s no telling how their $1.1 billion, retractable-roof home will play, nor which players will populate it.
Even their most obvious long-term building block, 23-year-old outfielder Nomar Mazara, already has racked up three years of service time.
Suffice to say, Harper immediately would become the Rangers’ best player, with little guarantee the likes of Elvis Andrus, Joey Gallo or Rougned Odor would be around when the Rangers are ready to challenge the Houston Astros atop the American League West.
No, a Harper deal would at this point be far more about business than baseball, and the most significant transaction in franchise history since the last time the Rangers disrupted this industry.
Off the field
It’s been 18 years since super agent Scott Boras took a 26-year-old free agent to the open market and convinced the Rangers to pay him $252 million.
Back then, Alex Rodriguez was expected to pay dividends far beyond the field. New Rangers owner Tom Hicks held the option to develop more than 200 acres of land surrounding the Ballpark at Arlington. Sign a generational star, win a championship, develop the land, cash in on stadium naming rights …
Well, exactly none of that worked out, as the markets for almost all of that crashed, save for Rodriguez’s on-field production fueled in part by his admitted steroid use.
Now, it is Harper entering the market, and some of the conditions are similar.
This time, however, the development precedes the player: The Rangers have a significant stake in Texas Live!, a $250 million entertainment/hotel/restaurant/mixed-use monstrosity that aims to keep Arlington humming on days the Rangers and Dallas Cowboys aren’t populating their respective stadia.
It also wouldn’t hurt to have a marquee attraction on the 81 nights the Rangers do play. And the Rangers already are facing a significant attendance shortfall.
Sure, fans realize a new stadium is coming online, one with a retractable roof that will spare them from suffocating heat and annoying weather delays. They’ve been treated to some bad baseball each of the past two seasons, losing 84 and 95 games in the two seasons since division titles in 2015-16.
But the bleed is significant: Just 2.1 million fans showed up this season, the club’s worst showing since 2008 and a 34% decrease since 2013. A Dallas Morning News analysis suggests the nosedive has cost the club $54 million in ticket revenue since 2012.
Additionally, the club owns a 10% equity stake in Fox Sports Southwest. And ratings for Rangers broadcasts are down 53% from 2016, when the club drew a 3.16 rating and ranked 11th in the major leagues for local TV ratings. In 2018, their 1.82 rating ranked 25th.
In short, the Rangers need a reason for fans to turn on the TV. And come to the ballpark. And, on top of that, stay the night at Live! by Loews and buy pizza from Pudge Rodriguez, burgers from Troy Aikman and tacos from Guy Fieri after the game.
Harper can’t necessarily compel North Texas to do all of the above. But he wouldn’t hurt the cause.
Why they could pull it off
With a franchise value estimated at $1.6 billion and annual revenue of approximately $311 million, according to Forbes, the Rangers have the cash. Just their $3 billion TV contract with Fox Sports Southwest pays them around $85 million a year.
The only truly “bad” money on their payroll is the $21 million owed Shin-Soo Choo each of the next two seasons. While they may regret guaranteeing Odor $12.3 million for both 2021 and ’22, his contract and Andrus’ aren’t necessarily immovable (although Andrus, also signed through 2022, now enjoys full no-trade protection).
Simply put: If the Rangers want to get stupid, they can get stupid.
Will it happen?
Possibly. The only box the Rangers don’t check is immediate contender status, but Harper knows no club can guarantee they’ll win for the life of his contract (one reason why it likely will contain multiple opt-out clauses). The Rangers are certainly no closer than the periphery of this chase as it begins.
We’ve also heard that before.
Follow Lacques on Twitter @GabeLacques
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