Where Will Bryce Harper Land in 2019?
Published on February 22, 2018
Mike Trout may be commonly accepted as baseball’s best overall player, but Bryce Harper sure isn’t far behind. Despite the fact that he won’t even turn 26 until after the 2018 season ends, Harper has already slugged 150 home runs in his 6-year big league career.
When he hit his 150th homer at the end of last season, Harper became just the 14th player in the history of the sport to hit 150 before turning 25. Trout, by comparison, had 168 homers through his age-24 campaign.
Harper was potentially on his way to his 2nd MVP in 3 years last season before suffering a knee injury in August that would keep him out for the better part of 2 months. He returned for the Nationals’ playoff run, but he wasn’t yet back to full capacity.
Most of the big-name 2018 free agents had to wait a while before finding new homes. That’s unlikely to be the case in 2019 when the group of free agents is an incredibly deep pool of talent. Harper will be the biggest name on the market, but the likes of Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel and a host of others will also be available. We’re in store for quite the bidding war.
Will Harper stay in Washington D.C.? Or will the phenom find a new home?
Obviously, the Nationals are the only professional organization Harper has ever known. He was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick back in 2010 straight out of junior college, and he only spend about 2 years in the minors before getting the call to the big leagues.
With Harper as the centerpiece, the Nationals have become one of the premier franchises in the National League. Since Harper got the call in 2012, the Nats have gone on to make the playoffs in 4 of 6 years. They topped the NL East in each of those playoff seasons.
Unfortunately, Washington has been a constant disappointment once the postseason rolls around. Harper’s Nationals have been eliminated in the Division Series in each of their 4 appearances, most recently in a 5-game series against the Cubs in 2017.
Spring training started earlier this week, and Harper immediately told the press that he will not discuss his future during the season. That certainly isn’t an indicator that he’s seriously considering bolting for greener pastures, but this is clearly a huge year for the Nationals. Losing Harper, the best player in the brief history of the franchise, would be a tremendous setback moving forward.
There’s no telling if the Nationals even have the cash to pay Harper what he’ll command on the open market. There have been rumors in the past that Harper may make up to $500 million as a free agent. That obviously sounds insane, but there will be teams out there willing to pay the exorbitant price for an in-his-prime superstar like Harper.
Harper may be willing to take a “hometown” discount, but it’s unreasonable to suggest that he won’t at least listen to what other teams want to offer.
That could change if the Nats break through in 2018 and win it all. They still have as much talent as any team in baseball, and they’re currently listed at +800 to win the World Series. Only the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers have more favorable odds.
If the Nats win the title, perhaps Harper would seriously consider staying. If Washington endures another early postseason exit, however, he could be out the door.
As mentioned previously, the Yankees and Dodgers have emerged as serious potential suitors already. We know the Yankees have never been ones to spare any expense, while the Dodgers have boasted baseball’s most bloated payroll over the last handful of years.
Los Angeles has already made a preliminary strike to get into position ahead of the 2019 free agency feeding frenzy. Earlier this offseason, the Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson to the Braves for Matt Kemp.
That move moved the Dodger payroll under the $197 million luxury tax threshold. As a result, the team will incur fewer financial penalties moving forward, and it clears more space for them to make a big-money signing next offseason. The trade was a blatant move in the direction of trying to sign Harper next year.
They acquired Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins earlier this winter. Stanton boasts the largest contract in baseball history, a 13-year, $325 million pact he inked with Miami a few years back.
It’s still the Yankees, though. This is a franchise known for exorbitant spending, and they have the cash to make it work. Once Opening Day of 2019 rolls around, New York could seriously have an outfield of Harper, Stanton and Aaron Judge. For every other pitching staff in baseball, that is a horrifying possibility.
If the big money giants and the Nationals fail to nab Harper, though, who else is capable of bringing him in?
The Rangers came up short in back-to-back tries to win the World Series several years ago, but they’ve remained a somewhat relevant franchise since then. Texas inked a massive new television deal a number of years ago, so their ownership group certainly has the kinds of funds necessary to make a splashy signing like Harper a reality.
The Rangers will have the hefty salaries of Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo and Rougned Odor on the books for next season, but that’s about it. They decided against splurging to bring Yu Darvish back this offseason, and Adrian Beltre’s current deal expires after the ‘18 season.
One would imagine Harper will want to join a winner in addition to cashing his massive paychecks. The Rangers are stuck in the same division as the 2017 champion Houston Astros and what appears to be a rising L.A. Angels squad. The path to contention is crowded in this division.
The Rangers are a franchise that has been down this road, too. Texas signed what was (at the time) the biggest deal in MLB history when they inked Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million contract way back in 2001. We all know how that turned out for them.
The addition of Harper alone wouldn’t make the current iteration of the Rangers a serious threat to Houston in the division, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Speaking of teams that have made questionable free agency decisions in the past, it would be foolish to ignore the Angels as a possible landing spot. It’s been a while since the Halos were relevant in the World Series race, but they look like a team trending upward.
We know they have Mike Trout, but they’ve started to compile a formidable roster around him. They made the biggest splash of the 2017-18 offseason by signing Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, who will help put the franchise back on the map. L.A. added a few more capable veterans, including Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart.
When Harper comes free, the Angels will be saddled with the hefty salaries of Trout, Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons. Still, the prospect of pairing Trout with Harper in the same outfield has to be tempting.
Los Angeles should probably focus on spending more money on pitching, but Harper is a tough talent to pass up on. Adding him to the mix would instantly put the Angels squarely in the top tier of the American League.
The Phillies have been one of baseball’s worst teams over the last several seasons, but they’re slowly turning things around. They were able to convince slugger Carlos Santana to leave Cleveland for Philly this offseason, and he instantly became their most expensive player.
Outside of Santana, this is a team without much long-term salary on the books. Pat Neshek and Odubel Herrera, who will be making about $5 million apiece in 2019, are the only other noteworthy salaries currently on the books. A team like the Phillies could easily afford to spend the big bucks required to grab Harper.
Philadelphia has an exciting young roster featuring a very promising pitching staff.
Harper certainly loves hitting in the Phillies’ home park, too. In 165 career plate appearances at Citizens Bank Park, Harper is slashing .291/.358/.608 with 12 homers and 26 runs batted in.
Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, predicted that Harper will make at least $400 million in salary over the course of his next contract. Not many teams are capable of shelling out that kinds of dough, but the Phillies are one of the few that can. Philadelphia may well emerge as a serious dark horse suitor to land the 5-time All-Star.
We’ll give each of the aforementioned teams the following odds at landing Harper in 2019: