Although he’s been a Washington National since he was drafted eight years ago, and although the Nationals have paid lip service to an effort to retain Harper long after this season, his final of team control, there is a broad expectation that free agency will take him elsewhere this offseason.
And that expectation seems to be well-seated, including with Harper, himself:
Bryce Harper on the prospect of his last home games at Nationals Park: “I think it’ll really hit that last game I guess, running off the field or something like that. I’m just trying to enjoy it and see what happens.” https://t.co/XAOT4y1nNi
— Post Sports (@PostSports) September 19, 2018
Neither side is out-and-out saying that Harper will be departing, but they also aren’t doing anything to dissuade the public perception that Harper, who turns 26 next month, will getting his hundreds of millions of free agent dollars somewhere else.
To that end, among the many odds Bovada recently put out – including Javy Baez at the top of the NL MVP race, by a lot – they also looked at the betting action on where Bryce Harper will land this offseason, as he heads into free agency:
Where will Bryce Harper play game 1 of the 2019 MLB Season?
Chicago Cubs 3/2
Los Angeles Dodgers 7/2
New York Yankees 9/2
Philadelphia Phillies 13/2
Washington Nationals 7/1
Boston Red Sox 9/1
Los Angeles Angels 12/1
San Francisco Giants 15/1
Wow. Hi. Hello. Nice to see you.
I mean, I know we’ve been aggressively banging the drum for Bryce Harper for over a year now, and I also know that betting lines in sports are not a perfect reflection of the market’s opinion on a matter (fan bases can skew things (though the biggest chunks of money come from entities that, you know, want to win the bet … )). But still: that’s the Cubs as a heavy favorite, relative to the rest of the field, to land Harper this offseason.
Do we think that’s accurate?
Well, I’ll tell you that I’d never say ANY major free agent is that likely to go to any one particular team. There are just too many teams with tons of money that will be seriously involved, and too many idiosyncrasies in the pursuit (and the player) to truly have a great sense of where a guy is going in November and December, let alone in September.
But I do think, yes, the Cubs front office will seriously consider Harper, and I do think, yes, Harper will seriously consider the Cubs.
Not only does Harper have a good friend on the team in Kris Bryant (an angle that shouldn’t be overstated, because lots of guys have lots of friends in this game, and they ultimately still wind up where they can get the best deal on a team where they can win), but the Cubs are also in a competitive window with a core around the same age as Harper. There are few better teams out there for him to join right now if he wants to win for the next many, many years.
From the Cubs’ perspective, of course there are financial and roster considerations. But when you have the chance to land a 26-year-old generational superstar for nothing more than money, you figure out how to make it work. Players can be moved around or trade. New sources of revenue can come online (like a massive new TV deal).
With arbitration raises and escalating contracts already on the books, the Cubs couldn’t seriously go after Harper unless they were willing to enter a new stratosphere of spending. But there is already reason to believe the Cubs will have some willingness to go over the luxury tax this offseason, and Harper, specifically, might be a reason to do it.
Consider a couple quotes from Theo Epstein before this season:
- On the luxury tax for this year, and going forward: “You have to look at these things from short-term and long-term perspectives. One of our goals was to put the team together this year in a way that would maybe allow us to reset under the [luxury tax] threshold. Going forward, we think that made sense in the big picture for us.” Reset, eh? Going forward, eh? Long-term perspective, eh?
- On spending big next year even after committing seven figures to Yu Darvish, emphasis added: “If you look at our needs, knock on wood if we can stay healthy and productive for the most part through our roster, everybody’s back and for the next few years. We shouldn’t have tremendous needs. But we have some work to do to make sure we’re in position to be able to pounce 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, we just have to work hard to get in position to do that. Rosters are flexible, payrolls are flexible. We would never put ourselves in a position to be completely inflexible going forward.”
Bryce Harper, of course, was never explicitly discussed. And he wouldn’t be. But the point is obvious enough: if a truly special player (check) becomes available (check), and if he wants to be in Chicago (hypothetical check), then rosters and payrolls can be flexible (boom).
The Cubs still have a great finish to THIS season ahead of them, and I’m not going to take my eyes off of that. But we’d be foolish to believe this front office isn’t already laying out its offseason plans, and has been for many, many months. Maybe that will include a pursuit of Harper. Maybe it won’t. It’ll be a lot of fun to find out.
… oh, but, I mean, yeah, the Cubs should obviously definitely pursue Bryce Harper. Please and thanks.