Unless the Braves’ organist has a say, we aren’t going to know where outfielder Bryce Harper will be going as a free agent after this season for many months. But, as one of the youngest and most talented players to reach free agency in a long time, the rumor-mongering and speculating and oddsmaking about where he’ll go will fill much of this season.
To that end, Jon Heyman plans to check in periodically on how he sees the odds shaking out, based on what he’s hearing and how he sees the market playing out. His latest introduces the Braves as a likely suitor, which makes plenty of sense to me given their corner-turning place and available dollars. In fact, collectively, I see larger market teams like that (Braves, Phillies, Rangers) as at least as likely to emerge as serious contenders to sign Harper as currently-successful larger market teams.
As for Heyman, though, he pegs the Dodgers as the favorites to land Harper, based largely (it seems) on their effort to get back under the luxury tax cap this offseason. I do think they did so knowing they would spend aggressively this offseason, and I do think Harper is a better fit than – for one other generational free agent example – Manny Machado. There is nothing going on in the Dodgers outfield that would categorically preclude adding Harper into the mix (with relative ease, in fact). The Dodgers make plenty of sense for Harper at this point. As much as it pains me to concede.
Behind the Dodgers, you’ll find the Nationals (re-signing is, of course, a strong possibility), and then the Phillies, Giants, and Braves. Totally agree with Heyman that those teams all make a great deal of sense to be serious pursuers.
Then, in the six spot (with 15 to 1 odds, as Heyman puts it), you find the Cubs. Heyman seizes on the tough fit in the outfield, but I’ll reiterate: if a guy like Harper wants to come, and if the money is there, then you add him and figure out the other stuff later. There is almost no plater or collection of players in the entirety of MLB that should stop a team from seriously considering adding Harper if he’s interested. Given how rare a free agent he is, I suspect the Cubs’ front office will feel the same way.
Theo Epstein said, after signing Yu Darvish, that the Cubs still have flexibility going forward, and would work to put themselves in the right position “if a certain great fit or just the right special player happens to become available, or somebody wants to be in Chicago and something becomes too good to turn down, too impactful or too good to deal would mean too much to the team.” Epstein would never say he was talking specifically about Harper – and maybe he wasn’t – but it’s not difficult to see how Epstein’s comments apply.
Still, despite that flexibility, and all the teasing and rumors about Harper and friend Kris Bryant, I don’t think you could fairly call the Cubs the favorite to sign the $400(?)-million player. Other organizations – so far – have shown a greater proclivity for outspending the luxury tax cap, and, while the Cubs are poised to do so next year, we don’t yet know just how far they’re willing to go. With more arbitration raises on the way, adding a player like Harper means a serious commitment to being over the luxury tax cap for a while, I suspect.
One thing you always have to keep in mind when reading Harper pieces from Heyman, by the way, is that the latter is very close to Harper’s agent, Scott Boras. I’m not saying they’re friends – I have no idea about their relationship – I’m saying that Heyman often shares quotes and information from Boras in such a way that, over the years, it’s become clear that the two communicate quite a bit. So, you simply have to read these things with that information in mind. It wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to act like Harper to Team X was already a fait accompli.