Top Free-Agency Landing Spots for MLB Superstar Bryce Harper

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Top Free-Agency Landing Spots for MLB Superstar Bryce Harper

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    Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    With the annual MLB winter meetings set to start Monday and a number of major free-agency dominos already down, it’s possible Bryce Harper will have made his decision by this time next week.

    The 26-year-old is a generational talent, but there’s been a wide gap between his ceiling and floor, and he’s coming off a 1.3-WAR season that has raised questions about his value over the life of what could be a decadelong megadeal.

    Still, he’s one of the two marquee names in this year’s free-agent field, along with Manny Machado, and he’ll remain in the spotlight until he makes his choice.

    Ahead we’ve provided a full breakdown of what his market looks like, starting with a few clubs who have been linked to him but don’t make sense and a few dark-horse suitors to watch. From there, you’ll find a closer look at the eight teams that make the most sense as a landing spots, complete with a projected lineup with Harper in tow and analysis, listed in alphabetical order.

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Reported Interest

    These teams have been linked to Harper this offseason but don’t appear to be realistic landing spots.

    San Francisco Giants

    The Giants have been linked to Harper since the start of the offseason, with Buster Olney of ESPN.com noting that the front office needs “something to sell for the fans, somebody around whom hope can be built,” while writing on the team’s potential pursuit. Spending $30 million-plus annually on Harper when the club is years from contention and has several other glaring holes still looks tough to justify.

                

    St. Louis Cardinals

    Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote the following on Wednesday morning: “The Cardinals have stated a preference this winter to acquire a bat via trade and look to extend that player’s contract—because they feel that has been a more advantageous approach for them than wading into the free-agent waters.”

    The Cardinals then went out and acquired Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks. So it stands to reason they’ll make every effort to keep the slugging first baseman beyond this season by extending him. And if that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll fit Goldschmidt and Harper into the payroll.

                       

    Dark Horses

    These teams have not been linked to Harper but could emerge as dark-horse contenders.

    Atlanta Braves

    Never say never. But unless signing Harper or Manny Machado will alleviate the need for the Braves to add a veteran starter and add at least two proven relievers, then neither of these superstars should be considered a likely possibility,” wrote Mark Bowman of MLB.com.

    Fair enough, but there’s still a clear fit since Nick Markakis is expected to depart in free agency, and the Braves have plenty of money to spend. Again, never say never.

                 

    Minnesota Twins

    Derek Wetmore of 1500ESPN speculated at the start of the offseason that the Twins could have as much as $70 million to spend.

    A waiver claim of slugger C.J. Cron—who will earn $4.8 million in 2019—has been the team’s only notable addition. The money is there, but upgrading the starting rotation is a bigger priority.

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. 2B Ben Zobrist
    2. 3B Kris Bryant
    3. RF Bryce Harper
    4. 1B Anthony Rizzo
    5. SS Javier Baez
    6. LF Kyle Schwarber
    7. C Willson Contreras
    8. CF Jason Heyward

    C Victor Caratini
    IF David Bote
    IF/OF Ian Happ
    OF Albert Almora Jr.

                   

    The Fit

    The Chicago Cubs are looking for an offensive overhaul after their bats went cold down the stretch, and on-base ability figures to be a priority.

    Harper fits that mindset perfectly after he led the majors with 130 walks and posted a .393 on-base percentage. 

    Signing Harper would open the door for a trade of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr. for someone like Whit Merrifield or a top-flight bullpen arm. Moving one of those guys could also facilitate a salary dump of Tyler Chatwood, which would make a Harper signing more financially palatable.

    The belief coming out of the GM meetings in November was that the Cubs would shy away from spending big this winter, per ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. That said, until Harper signs elsewhere, they still have to be counted among the contenders.

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. 2B Yoan Moncada
    2. RF Bryce Harper
    3. 1B Jose Abreu
    4. LF Eloy Jimenez (R)
    5. DH Daniel Palka
    6. C Welington Castillo
    7. SS Tim Anderson
    8. 3B Yolmer Sanchez
    9. CF Adam Engel

    C Seby Zavala (R)
    IF/OF Leury Garcia
    OF Ryan Cordell

                      

    The Fit

    After he failed to find postseason success during his time with the Washington Nationals, would Harper consider joining a rebuild?

    That’s the big question when looking at the Chicago White Sox as a potential fit.

    The money is there, it’s a big market even if the White Sox play second-fiddle to the North Siders, and there’s plenty of reason for optimism since they have one of baseball’s deepest farm systems.

    In fact, if any team is going to make an all-in, outbid-the-field push to sign him, it might be the White Sox.

    They’ve already made a trip to Las Vegas to meet with Harper, enlisting the help of Hall of Famer Jim Thome as part of their pitch, according to Tim Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

    With top prospect Eloy Jimenez expected to be up early in 2019, the White Sox could have a dynamic one-two punch on their hands for the next decade if they can reel in Harper this winter.

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. 2B Jose Altuve
    2. RF Bryce Harper
    3. 3B Alex Bregman
    4. SS Carlos Correa
    5. CF George Springer
    6. 1B Yuli Gurriel
    7. DH Tyler White
    8. LF Josh Reddick
    9. C Robinson Chirinos

    C Max Stassi
    IF Aledmys Diaz
    OF Tony Kemp

                   

    The Fit

    Despite still packing a punch, the Houston Astros offense took a clear step backward in 2018:

  • 2017: 896 R (1st in MLB), 238 HR (2nd in MLB), .823 OPS (1st in MLB)
  • 2018: 797 R (6th in MLB), 205 HR (10th in MLB), .754 OPS (7th in MLB)

Meanwhile, Harper posted an .889 OPS with 34 home runs, 100 RBI and 103 runs scored in what was considered by most to be a down year.

With some combination of Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick penciled into a starting outfield spot, signing Harper would provide a clear upgrade.

It might also convince the Astros to pull the trigger on including outfield prospect Kyle Tucker in a trade for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, though that’s purely speculative.

Financially, the departures of Dallas Keuchel ($13.2 million), Brian McCann ($11.5 million) and Charlie Morton ($8.9 million) have freed up a nice chunk of money, and there’s likely room to increase a payroll that was just over $163 million last year.

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    John McCoy/Getty Images

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. LF Joc Pederson
    2. SS Corey Seager
    3. RF Bryce Harper
    4. 3B Justin Turner
    5. CF Cody Bellinger
    6. 1B Max Muncy
    7. 2B Chris Taylor
    8. C Austin Barnes

    C Kyle Farmer
    1B/3B David Freese
    IF/OF Kike Hernandez
    OF Yasiel Puig

                  

    The Fit

    After coming so close to a title in back-to-back seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers could be more motivated than ever to make a splash.

    MLBTradeRumors predicted the Dodgers as the landing spot for Harper at the start of the offseason, speculating a massive 14-year, $420 million pact.

    Signing Harper could go hand-in-hand with a blockbuster trade for Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. The Dodgers and Indians have reportedly discussed a package built around L.A. right fielder Yasiel Puig, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, though it would no doubt take significant prospect talent as well to get a deal done.

    The Dodgers already have significant offensive upside, with Corey Seager (26 games in 2018) and Justin Turner (103 games in 2018) coming off injury-shortened seasons thanks to Tommy John surgery and a fractured wrist, respectively.

    Adding Harper would supercharge their offense.

    Aside from another setup reliever or two, the Dodgers have no glaring needs. In that sense, they can better justify spending a ton of money on one player than most teams.

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. LF Brett Gardner
    2. RF Aaron Judge
    3. 1B Bryce Harper
    4. DH Giancarlo Stanton
    5. CF Aaron Hicks
    6. SS Didi Gregorius
    7. 3B Miguel Andujar
    8. 2B Gleyber Torres
    9. C Gary Sanchez

    C Austin Romine
    1B Luke Voit
    IF Tyler Wade
    OF Clint Frazier

                      

    The Fit

    “He takes ground balls there all the time in the offseason. He can help a team in many ways.”

    That was the quote from agent Scott Boras—via Casey Stern of MLB Networkwhen asked about the possibility that Bryce Harper could move to first base.

    It’s hard not to tie those comments to a New York Yankees team that has a crowded outfield but a rather obvious opening at first base.

    With Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge penciled into the starting outfield spots and Giancarlo Stanton also likely to see time out there when he’s not at DH, it was tough to figure out how a potential pursuit of Harper could fit the roster.

    However, if he is willing to move to first base, it’s easier to connect the dots. Luke Voit was a nice story down the stretch, but he’ll be hard-pressed to repeat a .365 BABIP and 40.5 percent HR/FB rate. Who knows what to expect from Greg Bird, if anything.

    And after the Yankees whiffed on Patrick Corbin, chances are the starter they add to round out the rotation will come at a lower price, which could make a Harper signing easier to swallow.

    It’s also worth noting that Hicks will be a free agent next winter, and Gardner was brought back on a one-year deal, so a move to first base would not necessarily be a permanent transition.

    The Yankees might not be the favorites, but it’s impossible to count them out.

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. SS Jean Segura
    2. 2B Cesar Hernandez
    3. RF Bryce Harper
    4. 1B Rhys Hoskins
    5. LF Nick Williams
    6. CF Odubel Herrera
    7. 3B Maikel Franco
    8. C Jorge Alfaro

    C Andrew Knapp
    IF Scott Kingery
    OF Aaron Altherr
    OF Roman Quinn

                       

    The Fit

    The Philadelphia Phillies have been an obvious contender to sign Harper since they started slashing payroll and rebuilding from the ground up. It’s a major market and a franchise that’s lacking a face.

    While there’s been no clear indication whether the Phillies prefer Harper or Manny Machado in their pursuit of the two high-priced sluggers, Harper looks like a better fit.

    As Rhys Hoskins shifts back to first base following the trade of Carlos Santana to Seattle, there’s an open spot in the outfield alongside Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams.

    The other wrinkle is Maikel Franco. Signing Machado would likely mean a trade of the incumbent third baseman, and that’s a move the Phillies could regret, as things seemed to be clicking for the former top prospect before he suffered a wrist injury in August.

    Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly wrote: “From June 23 to August 23, a span of 53 games, he hit .323 with 12 homers, 28 RBIs and a .942 OPS. He raised his batting average from .240 to .279 over that span.”

    Simply put: A lineup of Harper and Franco offers far more upside than one of Machado and Roman Quinn, or whatever second-tier outfielder the Phillies might add.

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. 2B Luis Urias
    2. CF Bryce Harper
    3. SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (R)
    4. 3B Wil Myers
    5. 1B Eric Hosmer
    6. LF Hunter Renfroe
    7. RF Franmil Reyes
    8. C Francisco Mejia (R)

    C Austin Hedges
    IF Greg Garcia
    OF Franchy Cordero
    OF Manuel Margot

                   

    The Fit

    The San Diego Padres are admittedly a long shot.

    That said, at the start of last offseason, no one would have guessed they’d shell out $144 million over eight years to sign Eric Hosmer. In other words, don’t count them out.

    The same questions raised with the White Sox apply here. Harper would join a rebuild that’s still at least a few years away from contention.

    With corner outfielders Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe all showing intriguing upside, Harper would likely be asked to play center field in San Diego. That might not be in the team or player’s best interests.

    Still, there’s a lot to like about the long-term picture in San Diego. A loaded farm system and perfect weather are both legitimate bullet points in any free-agency pitch.

    It could happen. It probably won’t, but it could.

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    Projected 2019 Lineup with Bryce Harper

    1. CF Adam Eaton
    2. SS Trea Turner
    3. RF Bryce Harper
    4. 3B Anthony Rendon
    5. LF Juan Soto
    6. 1B Ryan Zimmerman
    7. 2B Howie Kendrick
    8. C Yan Gomes

    C Kurt Suzuki
    IF/OF Wilmer Difo
    OF Victor Robles (R)
    OF Michael Taylor

                   

    The Fit

    Nothing would be more anti-climactic than the status quo.

    Yet there remains a real possibility Harper could wind up re-upping with the Nationals.

    Even after signing Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal, the Nats are not ruling out a reunion if the contract is “structured to their liking,” according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

    Whether that means the 10-year, $300 million offer they reportedly made near the end of the season is still on the table, or if they’d prefer a shorter deal, is unknown.

    If he does return to the Nationals, trading Adam Eaton to clear a path for Victor Robles could become a priority. It looks like the Nationals’ best course might be to move on and hope the rise of Juan Soto and arrival of Robles can help offset Harper’s loss.

    If the door is still open for a return, though, it makes sense for the Nationals to stay engaged.

                 

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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