In two years, the Chicago Cubs – along with 29 other teams – will enjoy a loaded free agent class, headlined by Bryce Harper. But it’s time to face facts regarding the controversial outfielder right now.
It’s a nice thought, to be sure. But I am here to be the voice of reason in a world sorely lacking it.
Harper draws wild comparisons already; many call him the second coming of Mickey Mantle. Whether or not you buy into such talk is an entirely different discussion, but for the sake of this piece, let’s assume he is.
That Balls Outta Here
The former National League Rookie of the Year and 2015 NL MVP has the skill set to be the best player in the game (not named Mike Trout). A shoulder injury drew attention away from the outfielder last season, but a mere two years ago, he showed just what he’s capable of.
Harper, still only 24 years old, put together a 1.109 OPS in 2015; thanks to an eye-popping .460 on-base percentage. Despite opposing teams relentlessly pitching around him, he still found a way to cause damage, hitting a career-best 42 home runs, as well.
Any potential deal between the Chicago Cubs and Harper won’t fall apart because people are questioning his skill set. There are two main factors, however, that stops these delusions dead in their tracks.
Hard to perform when you’re not on the field
First, Harper is injured – a lot. He appeared in more than 150 games one time in his big league career – his 2015 MVP campaign. Last year, he came close to that mark, but battled through a shoulder injury that sapped his power and led to his OPS falling roughly 300 points from the year prior.
He’s known for an all-out tenacity on the diamond, which is admirable to be sure. But given what he can do with the bat, staying in the lineup on a regular basis is paramount. A 40-homer, 100-RBI talent on the disabled list eating up $30 million-plus a year in payroll (more on that in a second) is nothing but a distraction.
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That leads right in to the top reason Bryce Harper will never call Wrigley Field home, despite his longstanding friendship with Bryant – money.
Last December, reports emerged that Harper is seeking a deal no shorter than 10 years – worth an estimated $400 million. A USA Today piece detailing the contract rumors between Harper and the Washington Nationals spoke with Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who made an important point.
"“Bryce’s young talent doesn’t come around very often. Those guys are game-changing players. Obviously, $400 million is a lot of money. He’s obviously an MVP. He puts up incredible numbers. He’s young. He can do it all in every aspect … But if he gets $400 million, it’s hard to put together a team around him.’’"
As of this weekend, Chicago has around $80 million in payroll obligations heading into 2019. Of course, that doesn’t include arbitration filings or future signings – but that number is more than half of the team’s current payroll.
The club’s young core – Bryant, Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras – all start getting a lot pricier around this point. Giving $40 million a year to someone like Harper detracts from the possibility of keeping said core intact for the long-haul.
And, to be blunt, if you have to give $400 million to any one player, he’s already in Chicago. In two years, Bryant has similar hardware to Harper: a Rookie of the Year, an MVP – and something Harper doesn’t have: a World Series ring.
Across the board, Bryant’s numbers top Harper’s. So if we’re talking about record-breaking, career-spanning contracts, let’s just move on from bringing the sideshow (albeit a talented) Bryce Harper to the North Side.
It’s never going to happen.