Bill Shanks

Let’s dream about Bryce Harper in a Braves uniform

Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats against the Atlanta Braves against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in Atlanta.
Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats against the Atlanta Braves against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in Atlanta. AP

This winter the Braves will have at least $65 million coming off the books. Perhaps some of the players who can be free agents will be brought back, but most of that money is from veteran players who will be moving elsewhere.

Plus, the payroll is down $10 million this season from last year, so if you add that money that’s right at $75 million that could be used to improve next year’s team.

The Braves should be able to spend that money to compliment the young talent. General manager Alex Anthopoulos said in spring training this was an evaluation year, so he’ll see what he has before he’ll know what he needs.

A young player (Ronald Acuna) is about to take over in left field, with highly regarded prospects perhaps a year away at third base (Austin Riley) and at catcher (Alex Jackson). There are already young players in Atlanta at second base (Ozzie Albies) and shortstop (Dansby Swanson and Johan Camargo).

The list of potential pitchers who could join the rotation is long. Some may not make it, but there are enough to at least give them a try before spending a lot of money on a big-time starting pitcher.

Some of that money could go to a closer, and former Brave Craig Kimbrel may want to come home. But even if he gets a quarter of that available money, there will be plenty more to spend.

Right field is the position that sticks out as a potential need. Nick Markakis will be 35 this November. He’s in the last year of his contract, and he’ll likely head back to the American League. Cristian Pache is a top outfield prospect, but he may be two years away.

So, is there a potential free agent that plays right field that might be enticed by the Braves big money?

Yes. His name is Bryce Harper.

Oh, wait, he’s headed to the Dodgers (since he’s from Las Vegas) or the Yankees (who love big-name stars), right? The Cubs and Phillies have also been linked to Harper.

But no team will have more money to spend this winter than the Braves, and that should at least put them in the conversation. That should at least make Harper take notice.

Charlie Blackmon looked like another candidate for the Braves. He’s from the Atlanta area and went to Georgia Tech, but Blackmon just signed an extension on Wednesday to stay in Colorado.

That makes it even more logical for the Braves to target Harper. They should have a lot of young players at key positions for a while, and young players are cheap for a few years. That could balance out a payroll that would include huge money for Harper.

And he is going to get huge money. The talk has been a 10-year deal for between $350-$400 million. Harper will turn 26 years old this October, and there is no doubt he’s one of the best players in the sport. The bidding could get out of control, but the Braves can afford to get out of control.

Remember, they have a lot of revenue coming from SunTrust Park now. That revenue stream will continue, and it will increase with a winning team. What better way to improve than to sign one of the best players in baseball? What better way to make more money than to market one of the best players in baseball in your uniform?

Sure, Harper can be a pain, but if he’s in Atlanta he’d be our pain. He’s hated now, but if he were wearing a tomahawk across his chest he’d be one loved individual in the Peach State.

And if this seems absurd, go write down a lineup that includes Freddie Freeman, Acuna and Harper. You’ll more than likely want to order your World Series tickets – for 2019!

Would Harper want to come to Atlanta, where this team has been a loser for the last four years? Well, the Braves could sell him on the young talent they’d have around him. They could write out that lineup, which would be impressive. They could tell him that adding him to this roster makes the Braves the team best positioned to win consistently in the 2020s.

And, more importantly, they could write him a check that could include a lot of digits.

This may be a bit premature, but since we just saw Harper in Atlanta, and watch him hit two more home runs in SunTrust Park, it certainly is fun to think about.

The Braves have to give that money to someone, so why not Bryce Harper?

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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