Bryce Harper: Why the Atlanta Braves should sign free agent

Bryce Harper

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 Atlanta Braves.

Harper 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 Braves joining forces:

On the field

In an era of “windows” and franchises closely monitoring their “win curves,” it’s refreshing when a team knocks down the door and tells the front office, “We’re ready.”

That was the Braves in 2018, shrugging off the service-time suppression of Ronald Acuña Jr. to win 90 games and the National League East over Harper’s Nationals.

Now, they have a rare mix of established but still viable veterans and emerging stars. And dropping Harper into a lineup bracketed by Rookie of the Year Acuña and three-time All-Star Freddie Freeman (he of the .875 lifetime OPS) is, well, it’s what you want.

The vacancy is natural: Right fielder Nick Markakis is a free agent. Harper could stroll right into SunTrust Park and set up shop for the next decade-plus, flanked for the next two seasons by Ender Inciarte in center field and across the way from left fielder Acuña for the next six.

Bryce Harper

Freeman, still just 29, also is signed through the next two seasons. The middle-infield combo of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies are under control for four and five more seasons, respectively.

In short: The Braves would have a devastating, well-balanced and athletic core for the next two seasons, and a sustainable one far beyond that.

Off the field

Harper has been the game’s most consistently recognizable face and theoretically could boost his marketing cachet in places like Los Angeles, Chicago or New York.

Don’t sleep on the ATL, however.

Already a top-10 market, Atlanta is on pace to surpass Philadelphia in population by 2022, moving to eighth overall in the USA. It added 90,000 new residents in 2017, its growth trailing only the Dallas and Houston markets. And that growth skews young, diverse and professional.

Clearly, there are worse destinations to expand your brand.

The Braves fan base also is something of a sleeping giant: There’s still plenty of ‘80s and ‘90s kids raised on TBS broadcasts scattered about the country, and the club’s social media metrics rank highly. While teams often suffer an attendance dropoff in the second year of a ballpark, the Braves enjoyed a 2% bump (cracking 2.5 million) in 2018 as they went from contenders to division champions.

Why they could pull it off

With a franchise value approaching $2 billion and annual revenues of $335 million, according to Forbes, the Braves certainly have money. Complicating that cash flow is the fact that they’re one of the few corporate-owned teams in this era, as Liberty Media controls the purse strings.

Another downside: A below-market TV contract that runs through 2027, although a 2013 re-working of the deal should lead to more than $500 million in revenue flowing toward the ballclub, Liberty said in 2014.

With that in mind, securing Harper’s services – for, say, 12 years and $420 million – might be a wise long-term investment.

bryce harperWhile industry observers ponder the concept of a “TV rights bubble,” Major League Baseball’s contract extension with Fox that keeps its jewel events on television through 2028 shows the TV sports model is shifting but won’t shatter anytime soon.

Harper will be 35 by the time the Braves’ local rights hit the market again, but he’d still be under contract and presumably would have added significant relevance and reach to the Braves’ brand. That wouldn’t hurt come time to negotiate a new TV deal.

Will it happen?

Probably not. Lavishing that much money on one player would be a relatively rash departure from the Braves’ disciplined rebuild. While there are significant arms among their top prospects, pitching remains the greater short-term need over a big bat.

Should they prefer a bigger-picture approach, however, Harper makes a lot of sense – for both parties.

Ex-USA Gymnastics national team member Alyssa Baumann alleges that Larry Nassar abused her

USA Gymnastics

Another former USA Gymnastics national team member has added her name to the growing list of girls and women sexually abused by Larry Nassar.

Alyssa Baumann, 20, a Plano, Texas, resident now attending the University of Florida, told IndyStar she is the Jane Doe who filed a lawsuit in August in Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois.

The lawsuit claims USA Gymnastics investigated Nassar in 2015 after a coach overheard Baumann talking about the former team doctor’s treatments, but that she was not contacted about it until 30 months later.

Baumann is among nearly 500 survivors now suing the embattled national governing body for failing to protect them from the sexual predator. Her attorney, Michelle Simpson Tuegel, said the lawsuit is being amended this week to replace the Jane Doe designation with Baumann’s name.

The lawsuit says Baumann was sexually assaulted by Nassar on more than 40 occasions and seeks unspecified damages from USA Gymnastics, the International Federation of Gymnastics and Nassar.

Baumann was a member of the U.S. National Team from 2013-16, which won a team gold medal at the 2014 World Championship in China.

The lawsuit alleges she was sexually abused by Nassar “at every national team camp” she attended at the Karolyi Ranch from 2013 through 2015, as well as three major events in 2014: The World Championship in China, the U.S. National Championship in Pittsburgh and the Secret Classic Championship in Chicago.

“The worst was the World Championships, because it was a month-long thing. We were at the ranch for more than a week and a half. Then we went straight to China, and we had a hotel room just for treatment,” Baumann told IndyStar. “A lot of times we would be left alone in that room with him. I think (the sexual abuse) happened every single day when I was there because we were forced, when we were there — we were all really run down, and tired, from training every single day. They told us ‘you have to go to treatment every single day.’ “

During that time in China, Nassar gave her pills prior to the treatments, and now she isn’t “sure about what he was giving me,” Baumann said.

“He told me that they were muscle relaxers that I needed to take before treatment, so that he could — so that my muscles would be more relaxed, and it would be easier for him to work on me,” she said. “But I don’t know exactly that they were muscle relaxers, because he would hand me pills and tell me to take them.”

Baumann’s lawsuit alleges she was one of the gymnasts overheard by a coach as they discussed concerns about Nassar’s treatments during a camp at the Karolyi Ranch in the summer of 2015. That discussion prompted the coach to report Nassar to USA Gymnastics officials, who conducted a five-week investigation before reporting Nassar to the FBI.

But Baumann said no one from USA Gymnastics followed up or interviewed her until November 2017, nearly 30 months later. And then, according to the lawsuit, the official who visited her in Florida asked Baumann about the abuse in front of other people.

Tuegel, Baumann’s attorney, said that inquiry came around the same time USA Gymnastics was in settlement talks with other Nassar survivors.

“It’s interesting, right before the first mediation, one of (former-USA Gymnastics president) Steve Penny’s people is casually ‘poking around’ with gymnasts to see who else may pop up,” Tuegel said.

USA Gymnastics

Later, Baumann said, USA Gymnastics sent an email about the matter to Baumann’s parents, whom she had not yet told about being sexually abused by Nassar.

A USA Gymnastics spokeswoman said the organization does not comment on pending litigation.

Baumann’s revelation comes as the U.S. Olympic Committee is moving forward with action to strip Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics — which is facing lawsuits from hundreds of Nassar survivors — of its recognition as the sport’s national governing body.

Tuegel said that move factored into Baumann’s decision to reveal that she is a Nassar survivor, too.

“They’re tired of seeing what keeps happening. They really want to see something be different at a deeper level, and it not just be on the surface — ‘we’re going to stamp a new name on this, and things are going to continue as usual.’ That’s what resulted in all of these women being in this situation. I know that’s important to Alyssa.”