You chose to go big on Bryce Harper. I applaud your cojones, as convincing the Dolans to shell out for the biggest free agent signing in team history is no easy task. But you’re a good salesperson, and your argument that the ticket sales bump from signing Edwin Encarnacion was small potatoes compared to what Harper will bring in was convincing.
You landed Harper on an eight-year deal with vesting options for years nine and ten. The total value of the deal over eight seasons is $260 million ($32.5 million average annual value) and the option years are worth a hefty $35 million plus escalators that could reach $40 million per year. However, the vesting option requires 80% of games started the two seasons prior to year nine and 75% started prior to year ten, and the contract includes an opt-out for Harper after 3 years, allowing him to become a free agent again after 2021.
The media and the fans love the deal and tickets start selling like wild. The Indians see a big bump in attendance, hitting 1 million at the turnstyle before the All-Star break. Harper is a hit, too, and he’s flourishing under Terry Francona’s managing. But tragedy strikes in July. Just before the All-Star Game, Mike Clevinger’s elbow starting barking at him. Seven years after his first Tommy John surgery, the hirsute righty needs a second operation, sidelining him for at least a year. Then, in back-to-back starts at the end of July, Shane Bieber’s workload starts to wear on him and he gives up 12 runs in 5 innings in one week. The Indians shut him down for August, but he’s unable to come back strong for the stretch run.
The timing of the injuries seems fortunate, coming before the trade deadline, but ownership is unwilling to add more to the stretched payroll and no rental deal seems worth the high cost. Still, the offense with Harper keeps clicking and people keep showing up to games, but the depleted and heavily used rotation shows its cracks. Triston McKenzie performs adequately in his first taste of major league action, and Sam Hentges quickly takes over for Cody Anderson, who doesn’t seem like he can handle starting any longer, but from August on, the Indians are barely better than .500.
The Indians hold off a resurgent Twins club, who added rental player Nicholas Castellanos at the deadline, to win another AL Central title. The prize for being the worst division winner, however, is once again the Astros, and old friend Michael Brantley drives in the winning run in game one of a four-game series that ends on a sad afternoon in Cleveland.