While the World Series rages on, it’s never too early to look toward the offseason. This offseason appears to be much more entertaining than last year. In the 2017 offseason, 1B Eric Hosmer (!) got the biggest deal from the San Diego Padres (!!) when they agreed to an eight-year, $144 million deal.
The 2018 offseason will feature two, and possibly three, premiere players hitting the market. Two of the them currently play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a squad looking for its first World Series title in thirty years–3B/SS Manny Machado, and, should he choose to opt-out, SP Clayton Kershaw.
But without a doubt, the biggest fish on the market is OF Bryce Harper. Harper, a former number one overall pick by the Washington Nationals, who will be only 26 years-old at the start of the 2019 campaign, could have as many as half of the league’s 30 teams make pitches to him, if not more.
Here, I’m going to look at a dozen of those teams who have at least a shot at signing him. I break down those twelve teams into four categories, starting with a quintet of teams who don’t exactly need Harper, but will nonetheless chase him.
Group 1: The Lottery Ticket
It looked sunny on the north side of Chicago after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. A young core of players under club control buoyed by a solid group of veterans made it look like the Cubs would contend for championship after championship.
Instead, the Cubs lost the 2017 NLCS in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This year they lost the N.L. Central tiebreaker game to the Milwaukee Brewers before getting bounced in the Wild Card by the Colorado Rockies. Both losses happening at Wrigley.
Adding Harper would boost an offense that slacked in the final month of the season. Bryce Harper, mainly a rightfielder, would supplant the disappointing Jason Heyward, whom the Cubs would try trade, bench, or outright release. The latter move would be quite the admission of mistake by the front office, but it would only happen if Bryce Harper were signed.
The Cubs lineup would then feature right-handed batters Javier Baez, Albert Amora, Wilson Contreras, Addison Russell (after his suspension), and Kris Bryant alongside lefties Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Bryce Harper, whose .889 OPS would have led the Cubs in 2018.
N.L. Central pitchers: beware.
Adding Bryce Harper would not only make the Cubs a favorite to re-take the Central, but would also make them one of the two favorites to represent in the Senior Circuit in the 2019 World Series. The other favorite would be the…
Los Angeles Dodgers
Adding Bryce Harper won’t be–or, at least, shouldn’t be–the top priority for the Dodgers in the upcoming offseason. Instead, the Dodgers should instead focus on re-signing Machado and, should he opt out, Kershaw.
Could the Dodgers keep those two and add Bryce Harper? Of course. Ownership will be motivated to do so, especially if they fall short of winning the World Series this year. Their current crop of outfielders–Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, Cody Bellinger, and Matt Kemp–will have to be re-shuffled in order to bring aboard Bryce Harper, but that won’t be a detriment to President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman.
Even if the Dodgers come back to win the World Series, they’ll take a look at the most recent two champions, the Cubs and Houston Astros. They’ll realize how hard it is to stay atop the majors, and seek out Harper, luxury tax be damned. Harper’s addition would then give them serious odds at defending their (potential) title, a feat that hasn’t been done since the 1998-2000 edition of the…
New York Yankees
Recently, the Bronx Bombers haven’t sat pat during an offseason, but they haven’t spent an earth-shattering amount of money luring superstars away from other teams, either. That could change this year, as it’s expected the Yankees will try to land Machado, Kershaw (if available), and BryceHarper.
Championships aren’t won during the offseason, it’s said, but this would certainly help.
Setting aside Machado for the moment, the Yankees could actually use Kershaw. It was the pitching that doomed New York in the playoffs. The Yanks don’t have an ace on the roster, though Luis Severino is looking like he could become one. Yet, outside of the maybe-available Kershaw, the pitching market isn’t looking too hot. Arizona Diamondbacks’ SP Patrick Corbin leads pitchers looking for rich deals, followed by Houston Astros’ SP Dallas Keuchel.
The Yankees should primarily focus on adding starting pitching. Whether it’s by adding Corbin and Keuchel on free-agent deals or by trading for one. But this being the Yankees, they won’t stop there. Bryce Harper is a generational talent, and though he’d have to shave, imagining him in pinstripes isn’t that questionable.
What would be questioned, though, is what to do with all of those rightfielders.
Adding Harper would give them three everyday rightfielders/designated hitters in Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Bryce Harper can play a little center, too, but it’s not his primary position.
In order to get those three bats in the lineup–and keeping Bryce Harper out of center–one of them could move to left, effectively replacing veteran Brett Gardner, who has a $2 million buyout on his $12.5 million team option for 2019. Losing Gardner would mean losing leadership and depth, but he slashed a mere .236/.322/.368 in 2018. Plus, he’s 35.
Adding Bryce Harper would make the team younger; insert into the lineup a hitter whose OPS would have ranked second on the team in 2018; and keep him away from joining the…
Boston Red Sox
Yet another team who doesn’t exactly need Bryce Harper, the Red Sox would certainly join the fray if they lose the World Series. Like the Yankees, adding Bryce Harper would create a logjam in the outfield. Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox don’t have an easy solution, as their current group of outfielders are all young, cost-controllable, and relatively good.
The weakest link is in center with Jackie Bradley Jr., who slashed .234/.314/.403 in 144 games. The Red Sox can’t move Harper or their current RF Mookie Betts to DH, because they’ve got J.D. Martinez there for another four years.
If the Red Sox truly covet Bryce Harper, they’ll make it work. That means trading at least one of the quartet of Bradley Jr., Betts, Martinez, or current leftfielder Andrew Benintendi. Expect the team’s President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, to take a good long look at this scenario if the Sox drop the Fall Classic after defeating the…
Houston won the World Series last year and followed that up with a 103-win regular season. But they got pounded in the American League Championship Series by Boston, losing four straight games to end the series. Still, no merely good team wins 103 games.
And yet Bryce Harper would be an instant upgrade over every single one of their outfielders– and their DH.
What should be noted here is this: Bryce Harper signing with an American League team makes more sense than if he signed with a National League team. Because, as he ages, he won’t be able to play the field anymore. He’ll have to become a designated hitter. And which league has the DH?
The Astros seem like the most analytical team out there, or at least they have that perception. I can see them making an investment in a player, but also protecting that investment better than any other team. Here, the best way to protect that asset is to give that player breaks every so often, to not run him into the ground. If you want that bat in the lineup, you don’t bench the guy: you have him DH.
Right now, the Astros have their rightfielder, Josh Reddick, signed through 2021, but their everyday designated hitter, Evan Gattis, who has underperformed this season, is a free agent this winter. It would be the perfect move for Houston to let Gattis walk (or keep him around to replace Brian McCann as the team’s primary back-up catcher) and replace him with Bryce Harper. They could have Bryce Harper and Reddick split time between playing the field and DH’ing.
Group 2: The Next Step
2018 was supposed to be the year for the Phillies, for them to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The National League East was there for the taking, especially with the Nationals faltering.
Yet, under new manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies under-performed, too, ending the season 80-82 and third in the East. The 80 wins, though, represents the team’s most since 2012 and an increase of 14 wins from 2017.
What the Phillies need now is a superstar who can not only help the team even the stakes with the Atlanta Braves in the East, but challenge the Cubs and Dodgers for the National League title.
Heck, adding Bryce Harper would mean the 26-year-old wouldn’t even have to change divisions. In Philadelphia, Harper would join young hitters Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera in the outfield. He’d be replacing another young guy, Nick Williams, but Harper is in a different class than the promising rightfielder.
With Harper’s addition and a solid season from the team’s starting pitchers, the Phillies could return to the top of the East for years.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are another team looking to re-group after missing out on October baseball. While the season came down to the last week for St. Louis, a miss is a miss, and the team has now missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. It was the first time that has happened since 1997-1999. El Birdos would then go on to make the playoffs in 12 of the 16 seasons, winning the World Series in 2006 and 2011.
One thing those World Series winning squads had that the 1997-1999 clubs lacked? A superstar–namely, Albert Pujols. While the team continued its winning ways after Pujols left for Los Angeles Angels, making the playoffs for the first four seasons after his departure, the Cardinals have consistently failed to lure big names to St. Louis.
Signing Bryce Harper would change all that, and would finally solve the Cardinals’ recent rightfield troubles. St. Louis played six different rightfielders in 2018, from the struggling Dexter Fowler (75 games) to (the tripping) rookie Adolis Garcia (seven games). Adding Harper would enable Mike Shildt to play an everyday outfield of Marcell Ozuna in left, Harrison Bader in center, and Harper in right.
Then, hopefully, the Cardinals can get back to their annual playoff trips.
Group 3: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Los Angeles Angels
Speaking of Pujols’ Angels, they’ve only reached the playoffs one time since signing him (and C.J. Wilson) back before the 2012 season. In their lone appearance, which came after leading the Majors in wins with 98 in 2014, they got swept by the Kansas City Royals in the divisional round.
That certainly isn’t what the team’s owner, Art Moreno, was expecting when he wrote those big checks to Pujols and Wilson.
Last year, Moreno opened up his wallet yet again, this time to entice DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani to sign from Japan. Yet, the team finished with another losing record, the team’s third straight. Then the team moved on from long-time manager Mike Scioscia, who had been around since 2000 and led the team to a World Series Championship in 2002.
The Angels are more than a player away from contending in the American League, or even the American League West. The Astros, despite getting bounced in the ALCS, look like a strong team for years to come. The Oakland Athletics surprised the hell out of everyone, yet look built for at least a couple of years of sustained success. Even the Seattle Mariners finished above L.A. in the standings.
But with Trout secured for only two more seasons, look for the Angels to have another aggressive offseason. That means going after Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper could slot in the outfield beside Trout and Justin Upton while splitting time DH’ing with Ohtani.
Regardless where new manager Brad Ausmus decides to play him, a lineup consisting of Trout, Ohtani, Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Harper, and, to a lesser extent, Pujols, would be able to put up some runs and challenge the A’s and Mariners for second place in the west and a possible Wild Card berth.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants, too, are a team that should strongly consider taking a step (or two) back. That is considering the Major League squad isn’t nearly close to what it looked like between 2010-2014 when San Francisco brought home three World Series titles.
However, with the team retaining manager Bruce Bochy (despite firing general manager Bobby Evans, whose replacement has yet to be named), it looks like the Giants plan on fighting for a playoff spot in 2019.
Now, there were signs of improvement as the Giants went from 64-98 in 2017 to 73-89 in 2018, but even that nine-game jump left the team in fourth place in the National League West.
If the Giants decide to go after Bryce Harper and land him, they can’t stop there. No regular fielder sported an OPS higher than first-baseman Brandon Belt’s .756. The team has next-to-zero pop: 32-year-old third baseman Evan Longoria led the team with 16 home runs, and catcher Buster Posey hit only five.
The Giants also greatly need pitching, as Madison Bumgarner was limited to 21 starts last year. Only one starting pitcher finished with a winning record: Dereck Rodriguez went 6-4 in 19 starts. The staff will get Johnny Cueto back after his season was cut short, but he’ll be 33 at the start of 2019 coming off Tommy John surgery. Not exactly a promising situation.
With Bochy at the helm, expect this team to compete. To compete, they’ll need to bring in great players. This isn’t a small-market team, so ownership will definitely not shy away from trying to nab Bryce Harper.
Group 4: The Dark Horse Candidates
New York Mets
Under first-year manager Mickey Callaway, the Mets finished only above the woeful Miami Marlins in the East in 2018. For Callaway to have a third year with New York’s Senior Circuit team, they’ve got some jumping to do.
While the offense stinks, adding Bryce Harper, would give the Mets three excellent young outfielders around which to build a contender. Michael Conforto, 25, finally got the at-bats in 2018 to show what he can do. He responded by hitting 28 home runs alongside 82 RBI’s and a slash line of .243/.350/.448. Then there’s Brandon Nimmo, also 25, who hit .263/.404/.483 with 17 home runs and 47 RBI’s.
Both Conforto and Nimmo played all three outfield positions last season, so each can play left or center. That would, of course, enable Bryce Harper to play right.
The Mets really shouldn’t stop with adding Bryce Harper, as the rest of the offense is an utter mess. His addition, though, would bring excitement to a rather dull franchise while stealing him away from a divisional rival and keeping him away from the Evil Empire.
This seems like a no-brainer, so of course the Wilpons won’t even consider it.
A small-market club that consistently contends, but usually bows out early in the playoffs. Somehow, in 2016, they came just short of the franchise’s first World Series title since 1954: your Cleveland Indians.
The Tribe won 91 games this year, winning the AL Central by a smooth 13 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins. This was the third straight year the Indians won the Central. It was the second straight year they got their you-know-what handed to them in the divisional round of the playoffs.
How much time do the Indians have left? Not a lot, I’d say. To extend that time and/or capitalize on it, they need to bring in someone who can do some damage. After all, during the trading deadline, the one team rumored most to be considering acquiring Harper was the Cleveland Indians. While that move didn’t materialize, it does go to show that the Indians are serious about bringing in a superstar.
Now, I’m not sure the Indians will be able to stomach a Bryce Harper deal. He’s probably going to get something in the range of $25-$30 million per year for a decade. That may be the ultimate sticking point with the Indians. Adding him to a lineup that already boasts Francisco Lindor, José Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion? Dang, the Indians would have little trouble winning a fourth consecutive Central title.
Bryce Harper’s signing would also rejuvenate a team that seemed to coast through 2018. Bringing him aboard would put the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros on notice not to take the Central’s leading team too lightly come 2019.
This is probably the least likely scenario of them all. Bryce Harper and the Nationals have been through a lot since he debuted back in 2012. (Interestingly, Harper has only led the team in WAR once, back in 2015).
Since 2012, the Nationals have reached the playoffs four times. They have never won a playoff series, losing in the Divisional Series in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. They’ve gone through four managers since Bryce Harper’s arrival. Even Max Scherzer’s signing in 2015 (and his subsequent dominance) hasn’t changed the fact that the Nationals are not a team built to win.
Though the Nationals may not be ready to move on, Bryce Harper is, and most likely will.
What do you think? Where do you think Bryce Harper will land? Where do you want him to land? Let us know in the comments!