Monday , 18 June 2018

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How Yankees might pull off a long shot and sign Bryce Harper

First they minimized him by acquiring Giancarlo Stanton in a Hot Stove sneak-attack trade. Then they mauled him with a one-two combo of painful baseballs to the body.

Either the Yankees don’t want Bryce Harper around next year, or they’re borrowing from the playbook of a 5-year-old boy who repeatedly trips the girl he likes.

The Nationals’ superstar Harper endured quite the torture test in his first visit to Yankee Stadium since 2015, although he appears to have avoided any sort of serious injury. Following the Yankees’ 3-0 victory over Washington Tuesday night, during which Harper departed in the eighth inning after getting hit with a pitch for a second time, declared himself good to go for Wednesday night’s series finale, an X-ray on his left big toe clearing his mind. He limped off the field after taking a Dellin Betances breaking ball to the toe; in the fifth, he looked in agony after CC Sabathia’s fastball struck him in the right elbow.

Perhaps most important for those Yankees fans who envision the impending free agent Harper in pinstripes for 2019 and beyond, the 25-year-old insisted, “No ill feelings at all.”

Every logical instinct tells you that Harper will sign with someone besides the Yankees this offseason. Yet if you needed any reason to check the Harper-to-the-Yankees “Never say never” box, rather than the plain “Never” box, you needed only to watch Stanton get booed as the Yankees’ designated hitter Tuesday night against Harper’s Nationals; Harper, too, received some mild jeers.
The Yankees’ owners still love stars, and their baseball operations people adore young talent. Harper, who leads the National League in home runs (19) and walks (50, after drawing two free passes from Sabathia on Tuesday), fits both categories, as does Stanton, whom virtually no one a year ago pegged as an imminent Yankee.

Stanton, upon coming to the Yankees from the Marlins in December, occupied an outfield/DH spot as well as a considerable financial commitment ($265 million through 2027). His presence obviously, significantly decreases the likelihood of Harper landing with the Yankees. Potential suitors for Harper include the Dodgers, Cubs and Phillies as well as Harper’s own Nationals.

Nevertheless, the same principles that brought Stanton here would factor into a surprise acquisition of Harper. As Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told The Post’s Joel Sherman in March, “If you have an opportunity to acquire a seven or eight [on the scouting scale] and the cost is something you can live with, you don’t throw that away.”

Harper’s financial cost — could it get to 10 years for $350 million? More? — might prove too high for the Yankees, whose managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has repeatedly stated his desire to keep the team’s payroll below $200 million. So that begs the follow-up question: Could the Yankees trade Stanton to, say, the Dodgers (his first choice last winter) to clear up space on the field and in the books for Harper, who grew up as a Yankees fan in Las Vegas?

It would be more feasible Stanton appeared absolutely miserable and was performing terribly for the Yankees. For now, though, the complex truth is that Stanton’s modest .240/.318/.479 slash line still puts him above the American League average, and he looks to be sufficiently content.

Could the Yankees use Harper in center field and trade Aaron Hicks, or put him in left field, not exercise Brett Gardner’s team option and relegate Stanton to more DH at-bats? Call those scenarios unlikely, due to the payroll hike as much as anything … and don’t rule them out altogether.

Harper wouldn’t play along much with the media on Tuesday, describing New York as “just another city you play in” and declining to muse how the lefty hitter would perform regularly aiming at the Stadium’s ultra-friendly right-field porch.

Afterward, he politely said all was well, even as his manager Dave Martinez said, “I was really worried” after Harper left the game. He’ll give it another go Wednesday, and we’ll see if the Yankees can try not to deter Harper so much from joining them. After Tuesday’s misadventures, they’ve got nowhere to go but up.

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