Perennial All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper remains a free agent. The first two-thirds of that sentence makes its ending remarkable. The reason why this three-month drag has taken place isn’t because of one particular individual, or team. You could argue that Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, have asked for too much money in contract negotiations. On the other hand, the case could be made that teams are attempting to make a power play to cheapen future contracts from the sport’s most prolific players.
While he was, at one point, hitting .209, Harper finished 2018 strong, hitting .249 while totaling 34 home runs and a career-high 100 RBIs. He also recorded an impressive .393 on-base percentage. An underrated part of the 26-year-old’s game is his defense. He’s one of the most steady outfielders in the sport, can play all three outfield positions, and has a cannon for an arm. Sure, inconsistency has been an issue in Harper’s career when it concerns his production at the plate (he has recorded batting averages of .270, .274, ..273, .330, .243, .319, and .249), but he’s one of the best players in Major League Baseball and would uplift any ballclub he joins.
There are five teams who have been consistently and/or recently linked to being in the chase for Harper’s services: the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres, and San Francisco Giants. Working under the mindset that the outfielder will eventually ink a deal with one of those five teams, what is his best option?
5) San Diego Padres
The Padres met with Harper last week — which was an intriguing development. After an all-out attempt to win fell flat on its face in 2015, general manager A.J. Preller and the Padres have embraced a rebuild, though they haven’t been totally dormant. Last offseason they signed first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million deal. While Hosmer’s debut year in San Diego was a bumpy ride, his signing showed that the Padres are looking to compete soon; adding Harper would continue that effort.
The Padres currently sport an underrated outfield headlined by Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe. Inserting Harper into that outfield rotation would deepen their depth chart while also advancing an offense that features the likes of Hosmer, Margot, Renfroe, star rookies like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Francisco Mejia, and (if he can stay healthy) Wil Myers. The Padres’ problem is that they have an uncertain pitching staff and are, optimistically, the fourth-best team in the National League West.Free agent superstar @Bharper3407 is still on the market, but is also in serious talks with a few teams. @RPStratakos ranks the clubs in the bidding based on how well Harper would fit in.Click To Tweet
The Los Angeles Dodgers have won the NL pennant and the Colorado Rockies have been a Wild Card team in each of the last two seasons while the Arizona Diamondbacks and, if healthy, Giants sport competitive ballclubs. The Padres should be able to back up the truck for Harper and could fit him in their starting outfield, but a playoff appearance in his presence seems far-fetched.
4) Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have been linked to both Harper and Manny Machado this offseason, though there have been fewer reports on their interest in the two over the last few weeks. But Harper would surely put a White Sox team that has been in MLB’s cellar back on the map.
While Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, and Daniel Palka are productive hitters, the White Sox need an offensive jolt; Harper would give them precisely that. He’d be the power, middle-of-the-order left-handed bat they’ve been deprived of and an instant starter. The biggest factor working against the White Sox is that they can’t offer Harper the chance to go to the playoffs.
While the American League Central is arguably the least competitive division in the sport, the Cleveland Indians are the favorites to win the division. Plus, even if the White Sox add Harper, the Minnesota Twins are a more well-rounded team. They have a deep, young core, but the White Sox are still a couple of years away from competing for the playoffs and have glaring holes on their roster, on their pitching staff in particular. They’re also the second-best baseball team in Chicago.
3) Washington Nationals
The grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. Harper has spent the entirety of his seven-year MLB career in the nation’s capital; it’s where he began his career and made a name for himself. If he returned to the Nationals they would be arguably the most talented team in the NL.
The Nationals have constructed one of the most fearsome starting rotations in the sport, adding Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez to a staff that already featured Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Offensively, they feature the likes of Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Eaton, and Brian Dozier, among others. Harper’s return would make that lineup formidable. At the same time, while his continued presence can only benefit them, the Nationals don’t need Harper.
With an outfield rotation of Soto, Eaton, Victor Robles (the team’s former top prospect), and Michael Taylor, re-signing Harper isn’t a necessity for the Nationals. Plus, with Rendon hitting the open market after 2019 and the Nationals dishing out a boatload of money this offseason, giving Harper a contract in excess of $30 million a season may not be in their best interest; they’re still a playoff threat without him.
2) Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have been one of the most active teams in MLB this offseason, and, in theory, don’t need to sign a star free agent. With that said, there’s an opening in their outfield and who better to fill that void than Harper?
By adding Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, and J.T. Realmuto, a once anemic Phillies offense should be respectable in 2019, especially if Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, and Maikel Franco take the next step. But adding Harper would make their offense a force to be reckoned with. And even though they’ve added payroll, management still has the coin to dish out a mega-deal to Harper. Unfortunately for the Phillies, convincing him to sign could be a challenge.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Harper, as well as Machado, doesn’t like the prospect of living in the city of Philadelphia. Considering how money isn’t an issue with the Phillies, the fact that Harper still hasn’t signed may be an indicator that Sherman’s report is accurate. Forcing Harper to put up a tent in Philly (severely overpaying him) isn’t necessary given how the Phillies can pursue big names such as Rendon, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, and Gerrit Cole in free agency next offseason, as well as Mike Trout and Mookie Betts the ensuing year.
1) San Francisco Giants
Earlier this week it was reported that the Giants have met with Harper, and general manager Farhan Zaidi said Friday afternoon that the two parties have “mutual interest.” If that is indeed the case, they would be perfect for each other.
The Giants project to have one of the youngest outfield rotations in the sport, but have some proven commodities in their everyday order such as Buster Posey (when he returns from his hip injury), Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Joe Panik; Harper would take that lineup to the next level. Meanwhile, he could take on center or right field duties.
Sure, they’ve won the World Series three times in the last nine years, but the Giants need an everyday star player to bring life back to the Bay Area. Plus, with right-hander Hunter Strickland signing with the Seattle Mariners this offseason, the Giants wouldn’t have to go to family therapy with him and Harper (this is in reference to when Strickland threw at Harper in 2017, and he charged the mound).
The Giants may not be a surefire playoff team this season if they sign Harper given their competition in the NL West, but doing so would enhance their chances. Harper gets his money, and the Giants get back in the playoff mix; everyone gets what they want.