Like I’ve said for over a year now, I love the idea of the Chicago Cubs going after Bryce Harper in free agency after this season.
Is there an obvious hole that he directly fills? Not exactly. Is he going to be obscenely expensive when the Cubs already have a ton of huge contracts on the books and would likely have to blow past the luxury tax cap to sign him? Yeah, probably.
But the thing is, this kind of generational (potential) 26-year-old talent comes to free agency once or twice, at most, every half decade (turns out that they’re both this winter … ). The Cubs are generating revenue near the top of the league, and that’s before their next TV deal kicks in after the 2019 season. Other players can be coordinated or moved to accommodate a player like Bryce Harper. There is simply no legitimate reason for the Cubs not to at least be involved in discussions and seeing what could be done.
Yet, when I hear that Bryce Harper is now available in trade, I just don’t see it for the Cubs.
Why the disconnect? Well, if I can articulate it well enough in hour 27 of the Blogathon, it goes something like this: the extent that Harper improves this particular Cubs team for the final two months of the season and the postseason is probably a whole lot less than the amount he improves a few other contenders for the final two months of the season and the postseason. Other contenders out there don’t have six quality players available to play in the outfield on any given day. Many of them also have a DH spot where they can more easily shuffle in and out an extra position player.
And because the price tag for a player will rightly be pinned to the value he can generate for teams in the market for his services, the Cubs would necessarily have to pay more value to acquire Harper right now than he’s “worth” to them.
Maybe you say you still do it – there’s arguable value in getting him in the door now, showing him what it’s like to be a Cub, and then putting on the full-court press to re-sign him now that he has that familiarity (you get a showcasing advantage, so to speak). That’s fine. Fair point, imaginary counter-point-person.
But even in that case, you still have to figure out how to coordinate the players during a competitive season – some of whom may have to be included in a rental trade. If it can be avoided, I think teams would be wise not to jack up their clubhouse by trading away key players during a competitive season, even if it’s for a guy like Harper. In the offseason, it’s so much easier and smoother to work those things out without disruption.
Would you figure it out? Would you find plenty of starts for Harper, because he’s Harper? Sure. Of course. Every competitive team should want him. But, on the Cubs, the disruptive effect is probably slightly greater than for teams that have a fringe outfield starter in a given spot, and/or no quality depth whatsoever behind their front three. Couple that with the fact that those same very teams should want to pay a lot more for Harper than the Cubs should, and I just don’t see a trade making sense for the Cubs today.
Buster Olney today included the Cubs as one of the four most likely landing spots for a Harper trade, predicated mostly on the idea that Kris Bryant’s shoulder injury may prevent him from returning and/or may sap his power for the rest of the year. To be sure, if we believed that Bryant were out for the rest of the year – he says he is “1000%” not out for the year – then the calculus here certainly does change some. I’m not sure it changes enough for me to agree with Olney that the Cubs are right up there with the most logical fits (he says Indians, Dodgers, Diamondbacks; I’d add the A’s and Phillies). But I do think it’s fair to offer that as a part of the consideration here.
Still, Bryant is almost certainly not out for the year, and, moreover, his absence doesn’t necessarily impact the outfield in such a way as to make the roster and clubhouse considerations in adding Harper right now totally evaporate. That stuff all still stands regardless of Bryant’s condition.
So, in the end, I land where I land: the Cubs aren’t the best fit for a Harper trade right now.
But when the offseason hits? Sign me up for Brycemas.