The Curious Cases of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado
Writer: Layten Praytor
Ah, it’s that time of the year again folks. That deep and dark time period where we live in a baseball free world until spring dawns upon us with a reinvigorated passion for America’s pastime. However, we do have a small sliver of baseball news to keep us warm as the MLB Hot Stove heats up as we look to see where baseball’s biggest free agents and trade candidates land before Opening Day.
On the free agent market, the vaunted class of of 2018 has finally arrived. Or has it? Sure with superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper finally on the free agent market after years of anticipation, the baseball world will be glued to them as they make their way to perhaps $300 million contracts and a new set of threads. Yet, each comes with their own set of questions marks. More on those in a moment.
This was supposed to be the winter of not only Harper and Machado, but also Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Craig Kimbrel, and the late great Jose Fernandez. Things sure of changed over the past couple years haven’t they? Kershaw resigned right after the conclusion of the World Series with the Dodgers (as expected), Josh Donaldson hasn’t been healthy in two years and will likely look for a one year pillow contract to rebuild some of his value, Kimbrel will actually do relatively well despite his hiccups in the postseason, and of course Fernandez tragically passed away in 2016.
So, what about the two crown jewels of the winter, Harper and Machado? To begin with, each will get the contracts they seek regardless of whatever uncertainty surrounds them. You can count on it. Generational talents like these two don’t come around very often at the prime ages 26 years old and there aren’t many teams that can play at the end of the market that will be required to land them.
Harper has been baseball’s most polarizing figured since he entered the league at age 19. He is the closest thing to LeBron James and Aaron Rodgers the sport has and it is time baseball started effectively marketing its stars as such. But, that’s a discussion for another day. He was the NL MVP in 2015, but has lacked the overall consistency you’d like to see out of someone you’re paying over a quarter of a billion dollars over the next decade and a half. He had an abysmal first half of the season, but was able to really heat up after the all-star break. Nonetheless, he still hit “only” 34 home runs and 100 RBI on the season with a .249 batting average. His defensive number took a substantial decline because he was forced to play centerfield out of necessity, which is not optimal with a player that has an injury history like Harper. Speaking of injuries, the injury bug that once haunted him early in his career has since subsided for now, but it still lingers in back of every front office’s mind. That being said, he is brash, outspoken, stylish as hell, and somebody all 30 teams would love to have as the face of their franchise for the next 10-13 years.
As for Machado, if Harper and Mike Trout are the two best players in baseball, there is certainly an argument that Manny Machado is number three on that list. He might be a top five defensive player in all of the sport, specifically at third base, but he played a slightly above average at his preferred position at shortstop after the midseason trade from Baltimore to Los Angeles thanks in part to the advanced analytics and defensive positioning of the Dodgers. The bat has always played especially as he has matured into his frame and gained more power. While his production slowed down a bit after moving from the hitter friendly confines of Camden Yards to the much more pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium, Machado still finished the year hitting .297 with 37 home runs and 107 RBI. However, there is one flaw to Machado that has always existed that might be too big to ignore at this point. While he has always had a bit of a reputation of being a “dirty player,” he certainly did not do himself any favors after his showing this past October. Between his comments on his style of play and not being “Johnny Hustle,” not running hard out of the box, or clipping Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar on the back of the leg on a bang bang play in the NLCS, there is a feeling in the industry that Machado might’ve really cost himself a pretty penny in free agency. And to that I say, they are right. He only cost himself one single penny. Let’s be real folks, if you were a general manager of your favorite baseball team and you had the chance to sign Manny Machado this winter, you would pass on a player that would instantly make your team twice as good because you want to be the moral police? Nonsense. Please, Manny will get paid.
But the bigger question remains, just who is going to pony up the dough to bring in these guys?
As I said earlier, there are very few teams that can play on the end of the market that’ll be necessary for the two superstars. Teams such as the Yankees, Dodgers, and the Phillies are thought to be the favorites, with teams like the Cardinals, Giants, and Cubs well behind.
Many believe, myself included, that Bryce Harper will very likely end up in Philadelphia with Machado calling the Bronx home for the next decade. While those are the easier fits at first glance, there are plenty of other of factors, such as how the market overall develops, that will go into these decisions on both the player’s side and the organization’s end.
For me, Harper fits extremely well with the St. Louis Cardinals for multiple reasons. The Redbirds have shown a willingness to spend money over the past couple winters, coming up short on their bids for David Price in 2015 and Giancarlo Stanton last year. There is no reason to think they wouldn’t be willing to do the same for a much better player who is substantially younger than the aforementioned Price and Stanton. Secondly, the Cardinals have lacked a superstar in the lineup since the departure of Albert Pujols. Harper could be the missing piece to bring together an already solid supporting cast of players in the Gateway City.
Machado does indeed make the most sense for the Yankees with current shortstop Didi Gregorius out for most of the year with Tommy John surgery, and with young power hitting third baseman Miguel Andujar struggling to play solid defense you could possibly see him slide over to first base or perhaps even see him traded in exchange for a starting pitcher. The Cubs could make some sense with the future of Addison Russell being unknown and Kris Bryant having an injury plagued year, but Chicago seems more inclined on getting its pitching staff in order before shelling out $300 to a position player.
Finally, there is the somewhat realistic idea that the Phillies could sign not just Harper or Machado, but rather they could sign both. That is a lot to digest at first take, mainly because it actually is a lot to digest. Philadelphia certainly has the money to make both deal happen due to the lack of future commitments. The problem(s) is, would signing two players for half a billion dollars actually going to be worth it since they have other areas of they need to address such as the bullpen or possibly the starting rotation? Also, the Phillies already have a logjam of position players with Rhys Hoskins doing his best impression of a left fielder this past season while Carlos Santana took his natural position of first base, which in turn made an already questionable defense that much worse.
Whatever happens over the course of the next two months or so, rest assure it’ll be quite a busy and fascinating story to watch unfold as they race is on to be the World Series champion in 2019.