It’s very rare for a 26-year-old superstar to hit the open free agent market. However, as we approach the conclusion of 2018, Bryce Harper still remains unsigned.
Let’s first make a couple of things crystal clear:
- Harper just turned 26, is a former MVP, a 6-time All-Star, and one of the most feared left-handed hitters in baseball. He’s one of the most talented free agents under 30 to hit the free agent market in decades.
- Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, has made it known that his client wants a contract worth $400 million, but will any team pay that much?
Essentially, Harper is one of the top players in Major League Baseball, but is he worth the money, or will he and fellow superstar infielder Manny Machado be forced to sign for less than the $400 million they both have targeted?
Let’s take a look at the teams pursuing Harper and why each team makes sense for the lefty slugger.
Philadelphia might be the frontrunner for Harper’s services. At one point, they were rumored to be interested in signing both Harper AND Machado. After all, Phillies owner John Middleton told USA Today Sports last month that the team was expecting to spend money and “maybe even be a little stupid about it.”
Since then, the Phillies have acquired two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura, as well as veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Acquiring Segura has seemingly removed them from the Machado sweepstakes because of his preference to play shortstop and not third base, however both moves were fairly minimal in cost, so the Phillies are still firmly in the Harper sweepstakes. Rhys Hoskins, a current slugger for the Phillies, is expected to move into the infield to first base after playing in right field last season. Hoskins also has been recruiting Harper by discussing the city, organization, and clubhouse with him in recent weeks.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are an organization that can afford just about anybody they want to sign through free agency. They just recently signed Clayton Kershaw to an extension and have a great young core of players, starting with the likes of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. Naturally, Bryce Harper’s name has come up with the Dodgers after L.A. reached the World Series in back-to-back years but fell short.
The Dodgers acquired Machado via trade last season after Seager went down with an injury, but with Seager likely slotted back into the shortstop spot and Justin Turner entrenched at third base, it remains to be seen if there’s any interest in bringing the All-Star shortstop back on a monster deal. Such a move would likely require Turner to move from third to second base and then either force Machado or Seager to play third while the other plays shortstop. However, if the team really wanted to go after Harper instead, they would have the flexibility to do so. Bellinger seems to be locked in to their starting center field position, but he could also play some first base next season. On top of that, current right fielder Yasiel Puig is reportedly unhappy in L.A., so the Dodgers may try and trade him which would create a vacancy in right field.
I don’t see a Harper signing as incredibly likely for the Dodgers, but if there was ever a big-time market for him to join, it’s Los Angeles.
This fit is absolutely natural, and has been the leader of the rumor mill for a year plus. However, money isn’t as free for the Cubs organization as some of the other clubs that will be on this list. Is it impossible? No, absolutely not; the Cubs are one of the best teams on and off the field in Major League Baseball. Couple that with Harper’s best friend, Kris Bryant, also being on the team, and it’s natural to see why Chicago is viewed as a big player in this. Again, though, money isn’t as clear-cut here.
Jon Lester is owed $25 million for 2019. Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, and Cole Hamels are all owed $20 million. Kris Bryant will make $13 million, Tyler Chatwood $12.5 million, Ben Zobrist $12 million, Anthony Rizzo, $11 million, and there are many more players between $4-10 million. All in all, the Cubs could be looking at a payroll of over $210 million which already puts them into the luxury tax if their roster remains unchanged.
Would the Cubs be a perfect fit for Harper? Absolutely. However, until they can move big money, I don’t see them giving it out right now.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have been a bit of a surprise team that have entered both the Harper and Machado sweepstakes, but they seem to be a team willing to spend and spend big. It just comes down to whether Harper and his people feel like the White Sox will be ready for contention sooner rather than later.
The White Sox certainly have flexibility and a wealth of young talent. However, the team is also only coming off a 62-win season. They’re far from a contender, but adding Harper and/or Machado would instantly vault them upwards. My only question is would it be enough to push them into real contention or would they just become an 85-win club that is now strapped for cash with one or possibly even two mega deals on their payroll?
St. Louis Cardinals
I’ll get out in front of this and make it known that I’m a Cardinals fan. As much as I want the team to sign Harper, I’m not sure that it’s very likely. However, Las Vegas betting odds still believe that St. Louis could be a legitimate contender in the Harper sweepstakes, and it makes sense for the Cardinals from a roster perspective.
They just acquired Paul Goldschmidt to strengthen their infield at first base. Yadier Molina continues to defy all logic when it comes to age behind the dish (although that decline is coming at some point). Kolten Wong (hopefully) will be the everyday starter at second base. Matt Carpenter, a 2018 MVP candidate until late in the year, shifts over to third base and Paul DeJong is the shortstop of the future. Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader have left and center field locked down. Right field, however, seems to be up for grabs. Dexter Fowler struggled in 2018 and is owed nearly $50 million over the next three years and Tyler O’Neill is an exciting young prospect who brings power to the right handed side of the plate. All of this is a long way of saying, Harper is a dream fit in right field for the Cardinals in 2019.
But will they spend the money necessary? Based on their history, it’s incredibly unlikely.
If you made me pick a team right here and right now to sign Harper, I think Philadelphia is the most likely. The amount of money, if the cost comes down closer to $300 million, may allow a team to sneak in and sign him, though. I fully expect this to carry into 2019, by the way.
I don’t believe Harper or Machado will sign until around mid-January, simply because I think they’re both holding out hope for a mega deal.