Talk about opening old wounds when there are still fresh ones healing. Yeesh.
Alas, the news of the hour comes from Kris Bryant’s appearance on the Red Line Radio podcast, where he revealed some pretty frustrating information about generational talent Bryce Harper’s trip through free agency and how close he came to signing with the Cubs. Or, I guess, more accurately, how much he WANTED the Cubs to make an effort to sign him.
You can listen to the full interview here (Harper part starts around 30 min mark):
He came to Chicago [the season before he hit free agency], he played us and we went to dinner one night …. And we were just talking and I was like ‘Man, it would be super cool if you came to Chicago.’ And he’s like ‘Honestly, it’s top of my list.’
And I thought we really had a chance to get him. You know, I kind of forget the situation, exactly who we signed or whatever, but he really loves Chicago. He loves coming to the city, eating there … who doesn’t like going to Chicago. I’m kind of bummed out we missed out on that opportunity.
Listen, does that mean Harper was always, definitely going to sign with the Cubs if they’d made a decent offer? No. Of course not. That’s two buddies at dinner and one of them could have just been acting politely.
WITH THAT SAID … anyone who was around at the time remembers how clearly Harper seemed to be in the Cubs plans. There was so much smoke about his desire to play with the Cubs/for the city of Chicago, and everything the Cubs had said and done to that point sure seemed to line up with a legitimate pursuit of Harper. I vividly remember thinking to myself (maybe even writing it here) that the Cubs wouldn’t have signed Yu Darvish the winter prior if they didn’t also obviously have enough to sign Harper. But that’s not how it played out. As time has shown, we were probably wrong about the Cubs’ appetite for taking on a deal like Harper’s then, or in the years that have followed.
Harper probably would’ve helped the Cubs, though. In 2019, the Cubs finished third in the NL Central, missing the playoffs entirely, while Harper finished his first Phillies season with a 125 wRC+ and 4.6 WAR. In 2020, the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by the freakin’ Marlins after their offense entirely disappeared. Harper finished last season with a 151 wRC+.
His 13-year, $330 million deal still has 11 years left on the books, but Harper is also still just 28 years old and is due just $26M next season. I don’t know if he’s truly the “generational” talent we all considered him to be, but I still would have loved the Cubs to sign him. I wonder why this should-have-been obvious free agent target who clearly wanted to play for the Cubs quickly became a non-factor in their actual plans.