Where will Bryce Harper suit up to begin the 2019 season?
The chosen one.
This was a name given in June of 2009 by Sports Illustrated when they published an article touting a 15-year-old kid from Las Vegas, Nevada as “Baseball’s Lebron.” At just fifteen years of age, the public first found out about Bryce Harper from this SI article, and the buzz around this teenager was unlike anything we had ever seen. Harper was compared to Lebron James, Tiger Woods, and Wayne Gretzky in this article at just fifteen years of age, and seemed primed to be the face of Major League Baseball for many years.
Flash forward to today and the kid from Las Vegas has turned into just that, a superstar in a league that lacks star power, a face of baseball, and the prized possession of the 2018 winter. On Sunday afternoon when the Washington Nationals were defeated by the Colorado Rockies, Bryce Harper walked off the field into the unknown.
The now 25-year-old bonafide superstar has been through many ups and down in his seven-year major league career, but nothing will come close to making as much of an impact as this winter will. In his seven seasons in Washington, Harper grew up on and off the field right before our very eyes. In first professional season rookie Harper won the National League Rookie of the Year award, made the All-Star team, and helped lead the Nationals to their first division title in Washington. In the seasons to come, he became a perennial All-Star, making the All-Star team every year but an injury-riddled 2014 season. He won the 2015 National League MVP award, posting one of the greatest statistical seasons in modern baseball history, led the Nationals to four division titles, and made an impact on the game with his heart, passion, and desire to win like no other.
In his contract year this season, Harper went through many ups and downs. He even called it himself the toughest period of his baseball career. At the2018 All-Star break, Harper sported a .214 average, the worst mark at any period of his career. There were questions about whether or not he was worth a big-time long-term deal, would the Washington Nationals be better off without him, but all of that was put to rest in the second half of 2018. Harper became himself again, raising his average 35 points over the latter half of the season, and finishing with a line of .249/.393/496 with 34 home runs and 100 RBI. He also led the league with 130 walks and scored 103 runs. Bryce came back to life and became the player we had all seen and expected him to be since he was the number one overall pick in the 2011 draft, and all this has led up to the spot we are in today.
At the end of the World Series, Bryce Harper will become a free agent, unfamiliar territory for a guy who came straight out of high school to Major League Baseball. The main rumored suitors for Harper are believed to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Philidelphia Phillies, and of course remaining with the Washington Nationals. Each team has a very interesting case as to why or why not Harper seems like a fit, and let’s break them down.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Bryce Harper to Hollywood, I mean come on, it is like a movie title it fits so well. The flare and glamor of playing in Los Angeles would fit with Harper’s playstyle extremely well, and the Dodgers recent success and a high ceiling for their payroll it makes them one of the favorite potential suitors for Harper. For the Dodgers, one big question will be the impending free agency of Manny Machado.
If the Dodgers go the route of resigning Machado, it seems to reason that they would be out of the running in the Harper sweepstakes. Another big factor for the Dodgers is if star pitcher Clayton Kershaw opts out of his current contract, that could give Los Angeles the room to sign Harper and Machado.
With Kershaw opting in the Dodgers, 2019 payroll would sit at about $120 million without any of their arbitration players or current free agents factored in. With already sitting at $120 million with just eight players on their roster for the 2019 season, it may be a push to consider the Dodgers would even have a shot at signing Harper if they retain Machado. Pretty simply put for Los Angeles it will come down to choosing Harper or Machado, whichever they chose they will be one of the favorites for both.
New York Yankees
Now to the Yankees. Bryce Harper in pinstripes next seasons is probably the story that America is rooting for. It would bring instant flare and draw to Major League Baseball next season and would be the number one storyline going into the 2019 season. An outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Bryce Harper would be one of the best baseball has ever seen and would make the Yankees instant World Series favorites for 2019.
Currently, New York only has four players under contract for the 2019 season, giving them plenty of payroll space to pursue Harper. To be completely honest payroll is never really a concern with the Yankees, and it will mostly come down to whether the Yankees feel that they are good enough to contend for a World Series without Harper, and if they want to pay big time money to three outfielders in Stanton, Judge, and Harper.
Judge went through an up and down 2018 season, dealing with injuries and inconsistent play, and Stanton had a down year compared to his 2017 MVP season. The Yankees’ offense was fairly average this season, as far as base hits are concerned, ranking 16th in batting average at .249, but finished second in runs scored at 851 behind who other than the Boston Red Sox. They also broke the MLB record for most home runs hit in a single season by one team.
There may be an underlying factor from that, depending on how the current postseason plays out. Hypothetically let’s say the Yankees lose in the ALDS to the Red Sox. New York may look at themselves and feel like the only way for them to get over the juggernaut Red Sox is to add Harper and form the MLB’s first “superteam.” This postseason will certainly play a factor, but all things considered, it seems that right now the Yankees are for sure in the driver’s seat to win the Harper sweepstakes this offseason.
The Chicago Cubs had about as disappointing end you could have to a season the other night, losing to the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card game, and it could be a huge factor in Bryce Harper’s decision. Harper has made his affection for Chicago clear, I mean he even named his dog Wrigley, and has made it loud and clear how much he loves playing at Wrigley everytime the Nationals visited there in his Washington tenure.
Harper has a great friendship and relationship with Cubs third basemen Kris Bryant, which goes back to their Vegas days. The biggest factor in the Cubs pursuit of Harper is going to be the money, and it remains to be seen if the Cubs will be willing to go severely high on their 2019 payroll to obtain him. Just with players under contract, the Cubs 2019 payroll is already sitting at $179 million and that does not even factor in arbitration numbers for stars Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Wilson Contreras.
All three players are under team control till the 2021 season, but as the years go on their arbitration numbers will only get higher. Factoring in just average salaries for those three players in 2019 the Cubs payroll will already be about at, or above $200 million, without even factoring in a contract for Harper.
Their early exit from the postseason could play a factor in the Cubs pursuit of Harper though, and it may make the more inclined to go all in and not worry about the payroll in a pursuit of another World Series title. Even though Harper has a clear affection for Chicago, and in terms of on the field play the Cubs would be silly to not have an affection for him, the money will be a huge factor and could be the one thing that prevents Harper from calling his favorite stadium in the Major Leagues home next season.
Coming into September, the Philadelphia Phillies looked like the surprise team of Major League Baseball. The team sat at 72-63, just two games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves. Midseason acquisitions of Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos, and Justin Bohr all looked like very solid pickups, and the team looked to at least be in the running to play in the NL Wild Card Game.
In September the Phillies season fell to pieces, finishing 80-82 and in third place in the National League East. The bullpen was a big factor in the Phillies downfall, but their offense also played a huge role in their demise. The team finished the year dead last in Major League Baseball in average at .234 and 22nd in runs scored at 677. Although All-Star level players, when Odubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins are your two best offensive players, you are not a true World Series contender, and the Phillies could clearly use an offensive upgrade. Good news for Philidelphia is they will have tons of money to work with this offseason.
The Phillies have just $69 million on their payroll right now for 2019, and even after they reach deals with players on arbitration or resign some of their own, they still will be likely around the 100-110 million range. This gives Philly tons of money to work with, and clearly the best payroll situation to go all in for Harper. Even if the Phillies were to give Harper an astronomical $40 million a year, that still would not hinder their payroll and make the team unable to sign pieces around him. The Phillies have a young team and would be able to pair Harper with these young pieces and most likely be the favorite in the N.L. East next season.
Another big factor in Harper deciding Philidelphia maybe if the team decides to pursue Machado as well. If Harper had an assurance the team would be able to add him and Machado, it would make Philly a pretty obvious favorite to land him. If only able to pursue Harper by himself, the main question for Philadelphia is can the lack of talent compared to Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago be made up for by giving the most money.
Last but not least we come to Washington, the place Bryce Harper has called home for the past seven years. The Washington Nationals and their fans have seen Harper grow up with them on and off the field and turn into a bonafide superstar right before their very eyes. Over the past two to three weeks Harper has been very adamant about his desire to stay in D.C. if he is in the Nationals plans. Harper said in an interview with the Washington Post Barry Svrluga
“I’ve always said: If I’m in those plans, I’d absolutely love to be here,” Harper said. “But if I’m not, there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing I can do. I would love to play next to Robles or Soto or [Adam] Eaton. I’d love to. But am I in those plans? I have no idea.”
According to his statements it sure sounds like Harper wants to stay, now the question turns to, will the Nationals be able to compensate him the way he believes he deserves. After being one of the most disappointing teams in Major League Baseball and finishing 82-80 this season the Nationals have many holes to fill this offseason. They need a starting catcher and second basemen, rotation depth, and have plenty of work to do with their bullpen.
The team has $78 million on their active payroll for 2019, and when you figure in arbitration players and resignees, it will probably be around $120 without Harper. This figure does not include any outside free agents, which if Washington wants to make a return to the postseason they will have to add.
For Washington, the question really comes down to will ownership view Harper as a franchise centerpiece that they can not afford to ever let go, or do they believe that their duo of young outfields Juan Soto and Victor Robles can carry the load and their money would be best spent in other ways.
Although it can get fairly complex if you break it down, it is a simple solution. Washington must pay Bryce Harper whatever he wants. You do not let potentially the best player in the sport walk away from you when he has shown his willingness to return. If they are willing to give Harper fair market value that he clearly does deserve, I would be shocked to see Harper walk away.
All in all, the five teams examined all have very fascinating pros and cons as to why they may win the Bryce Harper sweepstakes this offseason. No one really knows how it will play out, and what the eventual outcome will be, but one thing is for sure. Bryce Harper will change the course of Major League Baseball with his decision this offseason, and all we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
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