5:38 PM: Levine does take care to note that, per his sources, Harper “has had” ten-year offers with “big” proposed AAV salaries, though the tendering clubs remain as yet unknown.
3:07 PM: Earlier today, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reported that the White Sox (and the Phillies) were willing to give Bryce Harper a contract of at least ten guaranteed years in length. However, contrasting information on Chicago’s stance has come from 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine (Twitter link), who reports that the White Sox are only willing to give Harper or Manny Machado a maximum of a seven-year contract. According to “high ranking industry sources” in contact with Levine, Passan’s report about the White Sox being open to a ten-year deal is “without any substance and flat out wrong.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that the Sox weren’t quite going all-out in their pursuit of either free agent. Earlier in the offseason, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney described Chicago’s approach to Harper and Machado as “measured and modest,” noting that the club wasn’t willing to make the type of record-setting contractual commitment that both players are reportedly seeking.
Both Harper and Machado will be only 26 years old on Opening Day, and their entries into free agency at such a young age invite extended commitments considering their potential for future performance. Either player could quite reasonably still be productive in their age-35 season, when a ten-year deal would conclude. Looking at other recent long-term free agent deals, Jason Heyward (also just 26 at the time) scored an eight-year deal from the Cubs in December 2015, and Eric Hosmer (then 28 years old) got eight years from the Padres just last winter. It’s almost impossible to see Harper or Machado taking less, considering that both have delivered considerably more superstar-level production than either Heyward or Hosmer at the time of their deals.
All things considered, a seven-year pact doesn’t seem like it would even get Harper or Machado’s attention, unless it came with a very high average annual value. Even that strategy would seem uncharacteristic for the White Sox, who have never spent more than $68MM total (for Jose Abreu) on a player. The Sox do have some new revenues coming in the form of a new broadcast contract, though it would still be a big leap to see the team suddenly be willing to spend in the neighborhood of $35MM+ in average annual value to land one of the offseason’s top two free agents.