Chicago Cubs: Weighing Bryce Harper against Manny Machado
By Tim Stebbins
Choosing whether to pursue Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency next offseason could be a tough decision for the Chicago Cubs.
Is there such a thing as a wrong decision when potentially acquiring a young superstar player?
For the Chicago Cubs, multiple factors will be at play. The upcoming season’s impact on making the case for acquiring either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado next offseason cannot be overstated. As always, money will play a large role in any decision.
All signs point to Harper receiving $500 million when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. Such a contract would be the largest in MLB history, far greater than Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325 million contract.
Similarly, the expectation is for Machado to receive a contract similar to Stanton’s. Unlike Harper, though, the value of Machado’s next contract is unclear. Ultimately, neither player will come cheap.
Strong defensive additions
For the Cubs, Harper or Machado would be instant upgrades for the team. Defensively, Machado has won two Gold Glove Awards (2013, 2015) as a third baseman. However, he is a natural shortstop and hopes to return to the position next season.
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Although Harper has not won any Gold Glove awards, he is a respectable defender with a tremendous arm. Among MLB right fielders in 2017, Harper ranked eighth in defensive runs saved (4). For the sake of comparison, Jason Heyward tied for second with 18 runs saved.
In 2017, Machado ranked seventh among third basemen in defensive runs saved (six) while Kris Bryant ranked twelfth (one). Ultimately, Machado is an above-average defender and Harper is strong in his own right.
Young, power bats
Offensively, both Harper and Machado have explosive bats along with the ability to hit for average. Both players are 25 years old and made their MLB debuts in 2012. For their careers, Harper holds a career average of .285 (768 games) while Machado has hit .279 (764 games).
Harper (150) has a slight advantage over Machado (138) in career home runs, but Machado (862) has more hits than Harper (785). Both players have four seasons with 100+ strikeouts, though Harper has two seasons with 100+ walks.
For the record, Machado’s single-season high for walks is 70. Kris Bryant, meanwhile, has struck out 100+ times in all three of his big-league seasons. However, he cut down his strikeout totals from 199 to 154 to just 128 from 2015 to 2017, respectively.
Consequent move required?
Signing Harper or Machado would require some sort of maneuvering by the Cubs. If Machado truly is set on playing shortstop, the Cubs likely have to move either Addison Russell or Javier Báez.
Russell could switch to second base if the Cubs move Báez, as he played the position in 2015. However, such a move could upset Russell, a problem the Cubs likely want to avoid. If this is the case, moving him rather than Báez would make more sense.
Acquiring Harper would require the Cubs to move at least one outfielder currently on their roster. The Cubs have a plethora of outfielders, but they would be foolish not to make room for Harper on their depth chart.
Heyward contract a roadblock
One potential obstacle for the Cubs in a pursuit for Harper is Jason Heyward‘s contract. The five-time Gold Glove Award winner is under team-control through 2023. He holds partial no-trade clauses in 2019 and 2020 and full no-trade clauses from 2021 to 2023.
Besides holding no-trade clauses, Heyward has struggled offensively with the Cubs. A career .262 hitter, Heyward hit just .230 (142 games) in 2016 and .259 (126 games) in 2017.
Essentially, moving Heyward to make room for Harper would be tough due to his no-trade clauses and his lack of recent success offensively. Unless Heyward or Harper were willing to switch positions, there might not be room for both on the Cubs’ roster.
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Both Machado and Harper would be tremendous additions to the Cubs for 2019 and beyond. Depending on the cost and making room on their depth chart, it seems like the Cubs cannot go wrong by adding either player.