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Why Bryce Harper shouldn’t be Padres’ focus

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres made a huge splash this week by signing superstar free agent Manny Machado. We’ve even heard the buzz that Bryce Harper might still be on the team’s radar.

Signing Harper would be the splashy move. But regardless of whether the Padres have the money (and they reportedly do), signing Harper is not the right move.

Don’t take this as a knock on Harper or his skills. He’s a tremendous player and at 26, there’s every reason to believe that his best days are still to come. But when push comes to shove, the fit is not right.

The offense already shapes up well: It’s been a while since we could say this. But when we break things down, San Diego’s bats are just fine.

  • Hunter Renfroe turned a nice corner in 2018.
  • Manuel Margot has a lot of potential.
  • While health is a concern, Wil Myers is an All-Star player.
  • Eric Hosmer had a below average first season with the Padres, but still hit 18 home runs. Chances are, he’ll improve in 2019.
  • Ian Kinsler is on board as a nice insurance policy.
  • Luis Urias will be up for a full season.
  • Star prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. should be up by June at the earliest.
  • All of that was the case before Machado signed.

This team will score runs. Preventing them is another issue.

The Padres need a huge pitching upgrade: As the pitching staff is presently constructed, this team will not contend.

  • In 2018, the Padres starters posted a 5.09 ERA — the 27th best total in the league. San Diego has yet to make any substantial improvements.
  • San Diego does have good prospects. But while Chris Paddack and Logan Allen will likely see the majors in 2019, guys like MacKenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon and Michael Baez are at least a year out.
  • It’s also worth remembering that even if Paddack and Allen are effective, organizations tend be very cautious with young arms.
  • A top-10 bullpen will help matters. But to be at its most effective, a bullpen must be given leads.
  • Additionally, if the starting rotation isn’t upgraded on, overusing the bullpen will become a very realistic possibility.

That leads us to the final question.

Who should the Padres target?: This free agent class was always more known for its hitters. But good pitchers are available.

  • Dallas Keuchel should be priority No. 1. He’s not the pitcher that he was in 2015. But Keuchel still posted a 3.74 ERA in 2018 (better than any San Diego starter) and would be moving from a hitter-friendly AL park to a pitcher-friendly NL yard.
  • Gio Gonzalez should also be firmly on the radar, especially on a relatively short-term deal.
  • Clay Buchholz and Edwin Jackson are veterans coming off of decent seasons. Both are available, as well.

Now, a case could be made that signing Machado was meant for long-term benefits. Signing Harper would be, as well. But the reality is that when a team invests that kind of money in a player, selling the long game is not going to work.

There’s still a big hurdle to climb: In the National League West, the Padres are better than the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks. But they’re well below the Los Angeles Dodgers or Colorado Rockies. And it doesn’t stop there.

  • Looking at the National League as a whole, it’s hard to put San Diego over the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals. Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
  • With Machado on board, San Diego is right on par with the Philadelphia Phillies, who are also vying for Harper’s services.
  • Other than the Phillies, signing Harper would not put the Padres above any of the other top teams in the NL.

And that leads us to the stark difference between the San Diego and Philadelphia. The Phillies really need Harper to make that leap. For them, he’s the sexy move and the smart one.

He only fits one of those descriptions for the Padres. If they’re going to contend, they need to improve the team in other ways and let Harper go elsewhere.