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Million Dollar Maybe: New $1 million prize should boost All-Star HR Derby participation

“I think they’re going to get way more participation, especially from the younger guys who are on their first contracts,” says the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, who competed in 2015.

T-Mobile Home Run Derby
Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber during last year’s All-Star Home Run Derby.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In a built-for-Baez event, what might the $1 million incentive for winning the Home Run Derby do for participation in a few weeks – especially for the Cubs’ slugging shortstop?

“The what?” Javy Baez said.

The winner of the annual All-Star Home Run Derby gets $1 million for the first time.

“Oh. Good,” he said. “Yeah.”

Invitations haven’t gone out yet, but the big-swinging Baez already enjoyed the event in his first try last year and planned to consider it if healthy, even before learning of the prize money.

“Yeah, I’m pretty good at it,” Baez said. “We’ll see how I feel.”

The way balls are flying out of ballparks these days – especially off the bats of Brewers, Cubs and Dodgers in the National League – a lot of hitters might be exhausted by July 8.

Even in losing four of the first five games of their current road trip, the Cubs hit 10 home runs in those games – and allowed 10 to the Rockies and Dodgers.

For now, three of the four Cubs who have participated in the Derby say they’ll consider it this year.

And the one who won’t – Kris Bryant – raved about what the prize money might do for participation and spectator interest.

“I think it’s cool,” Bryant said. “It’s a good way to get the names out there of first- and second-year guys, and get people to watch. I grew up watching the Home Run Derby. A lot of people watch it.”

Last year’s winner, Bryce Harper, just signed a $330 million free agent deal.

But the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and Mets rookie Pete Alonso? They’re tied for second in the majors in homers and neither one makes more than $605,000 as pre-arbitration players.

Alonso already has said he would participate if asked. If he wins, the prize money would amount to a 180-percent bonus over his major-league-minimum salary.

“I don’t want to do it,” said Bryant, who competed once, as a rookie All-Star in 2015, with his dad, Mike, pitching to him. “That’s all I wanted to do, just the one time to experience with my dad. And it being my first year in the big leagues made it all the more special.

“But the prize is definitely enticing,” he added. “It’s way more than they’ve ever offered. So I think they’re going to get way more participation, especially from the younger guys who are on their first contracts.”

Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who finished second to Harper in last year, said he’d consider doing it again even after being “left sore for a couple days” afterward.

“It was definitely a check off the bucket list,” he said. “Now that the stakes get raised a little bit more, I think that’ll add a little bit more incentive to some people.”

For Schwarber, the winner’s take would amount to a 30-percent bonus over his salary.

“It would definitely [make it] something you’d have to consider a little more,” said the Cubs co-leader in homers, Anthony Rizzo, who has declined invitations since his lone Derby appearance in 2015 because of the fatigue factor – but who would consider it this year if he makes the All-Star team.

Player don’t necessarily have to be All-Star selections to be invited to hit in the Derby.

“We’ll see where we’re at in a couple weeks.”

Even the Angels’ Mike Trout, who just signed a $426.5 million contract extension in the spring, said, “I think it’ll get more players to do it.”

Will it finally be the incentive that compels Trout to participate for the first time?

Not for a million bucks.

Or, apparently, anything.

“I like spending my time with my family that day, with my wife, and just being able to enjoy that day,” he said.

“But I enjoy watching the home run derby.”

Contributing: Madeline Kenney

MAGNIFICENT MILLION?

What the $1 million Home Run Derby prize – new this season – would mean as a percentage bonus over 2019 salary for the last three Derby winners (*), MLB’s current top three in home runs and the four Cubs who have participated:

2019 salary %

  • Bryce Harper* Phillies $10 million** 10.0
  • Aaron Judge* Yankees $684,300 146.1
  • Giancarlo Stanton* Yankees $26 million** 3.8
  • Christian Yelich Brewers $9.75 million** 10.3
  • Cody Bellinger Dodgers $605,000 165.3
  • Pete Alonso Mets $555,000 180.2
  • Kyle Schwarber Cubs $3.39 million 29.5
  • Javy Baez Cubs $5.2 million 19.2
  • Kris Bryant Cubs $12.9 million 7.8
  • Anthony Rizzo Cubs $11 million** 9.1

**-Part of long-term contract (Harper 13 years/$330 million; Stanton 13/$325 million; Yelich 7/$49.57 million; Rizzo 7/$41 million).