Coming into an offseason filled with the hope of monumental deals being signed and teams wheeling and dealing, the latter has happened more than the former, much to the surprise of most fans. Big free agent deals for superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have both failed to materialize up to this point, making for late offseason drama and suspense.
With Harper, the options looked much clearer when the offseason began.
He had the opportunity to re-sign with the only team he has known in his career, the Washington Nationals, who were rumored to have offered him a $300 million deal over the course of ten years, something that Harper turned down in order to chase the biggest payday, which who can blame him. Publicly, the door has remained open to re-signing Harper, but the contract terms almost certainly have changed from the first mega offer.
The other option was for Harper to look elsewhere, as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies were two teams rumored to be willing to spend big to get him. The recent news has leaned more towards the Phillies, as their plans of creating a big three of Harper, Dallas Keuchel, and Craig Kimbrel reached the airwaves a few weeks ago.
With news of the Dodgers just having signed A.J. Pollock to man center field for them, this pretty much takes them out of the running for Harper. Financially, the Dodgers do not have the room or space to inhale any large contract for Harper, so he will not be signing with LA.
While nothing has currently materialized with Philadelphia, they also have an eye to the future, as they have their sights on not only bringing Harper to town, but to also sign fellow superstar Mike Trout after the 2020 season in which he is a free agent. While the Los Angeles Angels will attempt to re-sign him and keep him in the O.C., the stars are aligning for Trout to leave the team where he won a pair of MVP awards.
So, besides the currently-tied teams of the Nationals and Phillies, who else is out there with interest in bringing Harper into the fold? These three dark horse teams have not necessarily been tied to Harper, but they would match up very well with him.
3. San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres, who would be a good fit for Machado, have a young core tied to a hitters park in a warm part of the country. While San Diego is not a huge market, Harper would have a similar fanfare and interest as he did in Washington D.C., with a spotlight that is not too big but still big enough to make him feel like he belongs.
The issue with the Padres is that they are not super close to being in playoff contention, which could work against them. While Harper would obviously boost their chances to make the playoffs, he would be better suited to just re-sign with Washington if he was looking for a smaller market team on the fringe of contention.
Nonetheless, the Padres would offer up a good challenge for Harper, who would pair with a fellow left-handed slugger, first baseman Eric Hosmer, to anchor the middle of that lineup for years to come.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
Another team that most certainly has not been mentioned in any rumors but would be a great place for Harper is the Milwaukee Brewers. Due to money constraints, this is mostly a pipe dream and far from reality, but the sliver of hope that exists is just enough to entertain the thought of it.
Think of an outfield with 2018 National League MVP Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Harper patrolling the confines of soon-to-not-be-named Miller Park. Combine that with the shutdown bullpen and a blossoming crop of young pitchers (Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta), and this team goes from falling one game shy of the World Series to World Series favorites.
For a small market team to make this move, money would for sure need to be cut in order to bring in Harper. Contracts like those of starting pitcher Chase Anderson and first baseman Eric Thames would need to be shipped out to even scrape together half of Harper’s annual salary, but the team is already over its highest-ever payroll amount, as newly-promoted President of Baseball Operations David Stearns was given the blessing for the increase in money from owner Mark Attanasio.
The Brewers would end up sitting around $140 million by the time Harper is signed, and a one-year deal with a player option for a longer contract would most likely be in the cards to help protect the team financially. This is the longest of longshots, but the potential fun this team could have in 2019 would turn the league on its head.
1. Texas Rangers
The final dark horse candidate that could entertain Harper’s services, even for just a year, is the Texas Rangers, who would walk the tightrope (again) of signing a young superstar to a monster contract (see Rodriguez, Alex). The Rangers, who are the lone American League choice on this list, would be a good fit, as playing in the warmth in a decently-large market could be encouraging for Harper’s odds, not to mention playing in the AL West could be a blessing as well.
After losing franchise stalwart and great clubhouse presence Adrian Beltre to retirement this offseason, general manager Jon Daniels could make fans forget about losing the face of their franchise by bringing in another younger superstar to take up that mantle. Connecting the dots between the two may not be the easiest thing to do, but there is a correlation between the two parties, and Daniels would be smart to reach out to Harper’s agent to establish a line of communication.
While the storylines of Harper and Machado were supposed to dominate the offseason news tickers, they have… but for a different reason: inactivity. Harper should sign at some point before spring training, but with those getting underway quite soon, the window for him to be locked up on a team before then is shrinking by the day.