Ending the Bryce Harper era in Washington
The Washington Nationals turned heads in the MLB world on Tuesday when they signed free agent pitcher, Patrick Corbin.
The move was surprising for two reasons. One, with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg already on the roster, a top-tier starter wasn’t exactly a need for the Nats. Two, it essentially ends the Bryce Harper era in Washington. While it’s not impossible to see the Nats bringing Harper back, Corbin’s high salary plus the ones already on board makes the road towards bringing Harper back a very bumpy one.
With that in mind, which remaining teams are the best fits for Harper?
Los Angeles Dodgers
One thing we know about the Dodgers is that they have the money. The question is, do they have the real need? On one hand, we can say no. Los Angeles isn’t exactly lacking for power-hitting outfielders.
But on the other hand, the Dodgers have reached the playoffs in each of the last six years and haven’t won a championship since 1988. They’ve lost consecutive World Series in no small part because they couldn’t quite match the offensive production of the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox. With that in mind, it’s only natural to wonder if a player like Harper might push Los Angeles over the top.
If the Dodgers really go all-in for Harper, they’re not going to be outspent. In the end, though, we suspect that the Dodgers’ interest will be somewhat tempered. So, while this team can’t be ignored, we do see other options being a better on-field fit and also more likely.
San Francisco Giants
If the Giants have any designs on competing in 2018, improving their power is a must. Adding Harper would do that. He had more home runs in 2018 (34) than any two San Francisco players combined. Additionally, this possibility has been mentioned by Scott Boras, Harper’s agent. Normally, that might be enough to the Giants to the top. So, what gives?
Coming off of consecutive losing seasons, the Giants have a lot of work to do. Signing Harper would be a big step in the right direction. But realistically, signing Harper alone would still have the Giants behind the Dodgers and probably Colorado Rockies in the NL West. Now, to be fair, this isn’t a move exclusive to 2019. Harper would obviously be a long-term commitment. But let’s get real. If you’re signing Harper to the kind of money he’ll command, you’re telling your fans that you want to compete ASAP.
Now, nothing would keep San Francisco from adding additional pieces. But the money spent on them, plus what was spent on Harper, might be a little more than the Giants are willing to fork out. The fit is there, but there are reasons to be skeptical.
New York Yankees
By default, the Yankees have to be involved in any discussions about a free agent like Harper. They become even more relevant when we remember that they’ve fallen to the eventual World Series champ in the playoffs in each of the last two years. Much like Los Angeles, it’s easy to imagine New York thinking that Harper would be the final piece to the championship puzzle.
Offensively, an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, and Aaron Judge is a dream. Defensively, it’s a slightly different story. Harper is capable of playing center, but he’s far better on the corners. As he, Stanton, and Judge get older, that defensive outfield will get even more problematic.
That said, we’re not eliminating this possibility by any means. The Yankees are an American League team and can certainly transition those guys to DH in the coming years. Power isn’t exactly what the Yankees need, especially in the outfield. As such, we see better fits. But this wouldn’t shock us, by any means.
While they reached the playoffs in 2017 and 2018, the Cubs have definitely taken a step back since winning it all in 2016. In 2018, in particular, offense was a real problem.
Between the NL Central tiebreaker and the NL Wild Card Game, Chicago scored a combined two runs in 22 innings. And it didn’t really feel like a fluke or a rough two-game stretch, either. This team needs a jolt. Harper can provide it. That, in addition to getting to play with longtime friend and fellow Las Vegas native Kris Bryant, makes the Cubs a darn intriguing option.
What makes this somewhat murky is Chicago’s outfield situation. With Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, and even Ben Zobrist, it’s already fairly crowded. But while the number of players makes that notable, that should be a fairly minor obstacle to clear. Harper wouldn’t have any problem taking the starting job from any of them. If the Cubs are willing to pay Harper what he wants, this fit is pretty hard to beat.
The Phillies had a good year in 2018 but faded down the stretch. As things stand now, they’re objectively not as good as the Atlanta Braves. Philadelphia is also probably not as good as the Nationals and is even in competition with the New York Mets, who just acquired Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. To compete in the NL East, the Phillies need to make a big move. Harper would qualify.
Money wouldn’t seem to be a concern. Philadelphia was in on Corbin. Additionally, MLB executives have noted that they feel that the Phillies will sign Harper or Manny Machado. Harper makes far more sense, especially with Jean Segura now on board.
One of Philadelphia’s real weaknesses in 2018 was in the corner outfield. In both left and right field, the Phillies had some of the worst offensive numbers in baseball. Harper would turn a clear weakness into a strength. Philadelphia isn’t the only team that makes sense. But no team in the Harper sweepstakes checks more boxes.