Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Bryce Harper Saga

With Bryce Harper finally in camp as of yesterday, how has the long lasting saga affected the hopes of the Phillies, Dodgers, Giants, and Nationals? The so-called generational player coming off arguably his worst season since his rookie year has certainly got paid, but what does it mean for the season ahead.

The final days of the chase for Bryce became a bit hectic. From the moment Manny Machado signed the richest free-agent contract in MLB history, at 10 years and $300 million, it was clear that Harper would make more. Whoever signed last was always going to make more money. But the deal the Phillies gave Harper raises a few questions.

Were Washington ever really in the Bryce Harper hunt?

In the last few weeks, it seemed like the Nationals came back into the conversation. Having mostly seemed to have given up hope, rumours began circulating of talks between Team Bryce and the Nats. Now call me cynical, but I’m pretty sure these talks were just to set the floor on any potential deal Bryce could get.

But what he found was a much softer market than he expected, so like any good fisherman, he kept his bait live and kept the Nats on the hook to drive up his price. This graphically illustrates his preference: after several years of failed potential in Washington, he wanted to move on to a new home where he could finally make a deep playoff run.

In the end Harper got what he probably wanted all along, the cache of the richest contract in baseball history with a 13-year $335 million dollar deal eclipsing Stanton’s 13-year $325 million in total value. The contract includes a full no-trade clause for Harper, there are no opt-out clauses, and no option years. There is also the matter of Bryce getting a suite for all road trips, and total playing bonuses worth upto $10.4 million over the 13 years.

Did the NL West looked a little desperate?

Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper is a very wealthy, and talented, young man

After the Padres signed Manny, things began looking a little bleak for the Dodgers and the Giants. Both teams sent marauding parties to Vegas to meet with Harper in the late hope of trumping the seeming favourites the Phillies.

Now Manny’s brief tenure with the Dodgers was all sunshine and rainbows. There was a lot made of his unwillingness to beat out singles. But this is something he has always done back in the Baltimore days (that seem so long ago now but were only last Summer). Manny is a great teammate, a locker room presence any team would want.

But with Manny lining up in a Padres uniform, suddenly the Dodgers and Giants look a little shorter on star power in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, the Dodgers are heavy heavy favourites to take the NL West, but optics matter. And these optics seemed to rattle them.

The Padres mixture of youth and veteran talent should worry the NL West. Maybe not this season, although the odds on a Padres division title were slashed by Vegas on the news of this signing. But going forward, the Padres have set themselves up to be a player, and the Giants in particular seemed rattled.

Is Bryce Really Better than Manny?

This is the heart of the matter. The Padres have dished up a bit more average salary for Manny, but Bryce Harper got the richest contract in MLB history. Machado had the better season last year, both in terms of performance, and reaching the world series. Machado also arguably has had the better career stats to date, with a WAR of 33.8 to Harper’s 27.4. However, Harper leads in homers by 9 in 414 less at bats.

Both are immense talents, and we have the pleasure of watching them in their primes. This question is one that is likely to dominate baseball for years to come. One thing that is for sure, by the time the likes of Acuna, Soto, and Guerrero Jr get their paydays, Harper’s contract will likely have been surpassed.

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