No, the Blue Jays are not going to sign Bryce Harper. It would literally go against every other move this front office has made since taking control a little over three and a half years ago. Inking Harper would represent a loud, flashy, risky and shortsighted jolt from a group who for better or worse has staunchly committed to playing the long and often tedious game of letting old, bloated contracts bleed out while slowly acquiring a stronger and stronger farm system that promises hope of a better future. Since bringing back Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ in November of 2015, the splashiest move they’ve made on the free agent market was Kendrys Morales. (Yeah, it’s been rough.)
Once the front office believed the core assembled in 2015 was done, they pulled the plug on trying to keep it erected and moved forward with a new plan. With th....... Hey, wait a second. What was that last adjective I used to describe a potential Harper signing for the Blue Jays up there?
Ah, yes. That’s pretty much how all big free agent deals can be described on some level right? You sign the guy to a really long contract, hope they pay dividends on the front end while you’re in contention, and hold your nose for the stink that comes near the end. That’s the system we’re stuck with for now. Therefore, only teams who are already good should be signing the big name free agents; or at least that’s what the owners want you to believe.
But here’s the deal: Bryce Harper is not your typical free agent. He’ll be joining his new team at the age of 26 (assuming someone signs him by October, which the way things are going ... uh .... I should probably stop there). Anyway, we’re talking about a guy so young you could sign him to a seven-year deal and not owe him a penny after his 33rd birthday. So if a front office views its club as an ascending team over the next few seasons not yet in, but heading towards a contention window with lots of young players and payroll space coming up over the next couple of years, they should absolutely be in the running running for Bryce Harper. In fact, partnering Harper’s star power with a young core of cheap and exciting prospects not only isn’t shortsighted, but it might actually make the most sense for both Harper and his potential suitor in terms of maximizing the number of years his contributions make a real impact in terms of a playoff push.
And wouldn’t ya know it, Toronto fits that description as well if not better than any other club in baseball. Bryce Harper may not help the Blue Jays overcome their shortcomings in 2019, but boy would I be willing to roll with him as a potential difference maker in 2020 and beyond for pretty much the life of whatever contract he ends up signing.
There’s also another really big point in Toronto’s favor in terms of pure sizzle and buzz that should have every Jays’ fan drooling and ownership seriously considering the idea of bringing Harper into the equation. That of course is the idea of having Bryce Harper and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. batting next to each other for the next seven years. Seven years! Assuming Harper’s contract is at least seven years long and and the Jays play service time games during the first two weeks of April with their prized prospect, Toronto would literally have must must see TV every time an inning rolled around with that part of the lineup coming up until 2025.
Think about how they would complement each other. One bats right-handed, the other bats left-handed. You want to start walking Harper the way every NL team did the last few years whenever he would show signs of getting super locked in? Okay, now you have to face one of the scariest hitting prospects I’ve ever seen with a man on base. These two would be so easy to market and if you’re the Blue Jays with a fanbase that has already shown you loud and clear that they will pack the stadium and generate enormous TV ratings when the team is good and has highly intriguing players, you have to be aroused at the thought of how much of the Harper contract might pay for itself in the long run through this vein. An entire generation of young Toronto fans would grow up on watching those two together. Think of the long-term positives that could have on the franchise.
On the field, that dynamic duo would have a real opportunity to wreck games for the opponent for years. They would command the type of attention where you’re always aware of what part of the lineup is coming up next inning because they’d have the potential to generate a rally that could be a crooked number and ultimately the game at any time. Leave the starter in one trip around the lineup too long or show them the same reliever one too many times in a series and you’ve blown the game.
Before returning to reality, just think about this one more time: Harper and Vlad Jr. together in the same major league lineup. What baseball fan wouldn’t stop to watch that? I get goosebumps just imagining it.
This is a tweet from Monday that really helps sell the first point from above. We’ve reached a real kind of bazaaro world where many of the best clubs from last year either don’t have room in the outfield or would be pushing their budget to the brink over the next few years if they signed Harper. Part of this is also driven by the fact that Harper just posted a meager 1.3 rWAR last season in the age of analytics, but the fact that he’s still sitting on the market as pitchers and catchers report is still kind of mind boggling.
What’s even more mind boggling however is the idea that odds makers have now pegged the top three favorites in the Harper sweepstakes as teams who’ve finished under .500 for at least two years in row. And the idea that the Giants are at the top of that list means we’ve reached pure Looney Tunes Land.
It’s not just that the Giants were awful the last two seasons, or that they look like an old and rotted out core, or that their farm system is a barren wasteland. No, it’s the fact that beyond all of that, they somehow might be even more screwed going forward. Flash forward to 2021 and they already have five players under contract that year for a total of $94.2 million. That would be (by that point) a 33 year-old Brandon Belt, a 34 year-old Brandon Crawford, a 34 year-old Buster Posey, a 35 year-old Evan Longoria, and a 35 year-old Johnny Cueto. That has disaster written all over it! This would be in a theoretical third year of a Harper mega deal, so if he signs there, I hope he doesn’t fancy the idea of going to the post season for a long, long time.
Unlike Toronto, which has bled out most of its dead money (and will be in fantastic shape payroll wise after 2019 with less than $30 million on the books total for all the years combined after this season), San Francisco keeps doubling down on their old, ragged core in a desperate attempt to keep cheeks in the seats and eyeballs in front of the screen. However, at some point, this organization is going to have to pay the piper and suffer through a few seasons of absolutely wretched baseball where no new big names come in and the product is just awful, and as a baseball fan, I would prefer it if one of the biggest stars in the sport doesn’t get sucked into that black hole of irrelevancy. (We’ve already suffered enough with the Angels’ incompetence keeping Mike Trout from ever being on a team that won a playoff game.)
The next team on that list is the Padres, and oddly, this is the one that bears some resemblance to the Blue Jays situation. By most accounts, San Diego has a deeper farm than Toronto, but they’ve also already overpaid for Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer who will be getting paid a combined $43.5 million each year from 2020 through 2022. So if you throw a Harper contract on top of that and then factor in the Padres’ budget, you better get some really incredible surplus value out of your farm during those years. It’s possible, and I could certainly see a scenario where an exciting young core combines with Harper to help make San Diego as exciting as they’ve been at any point in franchise history, but I could also see a scenario where it blows up in spectacular fashion and sets the stage for another decade of misery. These are the Padres after all.
Then we have the Phillies who are third on the list and might be the juiciest option simply from the division on division crime standpoint. However, despite their obvious improvements and overall positive direction, we’re still talking about a club that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011 and will have to deal with a surging Atlanta club that’s always felt one step ahead of them in the rebuilding process and a Washington team that has the potential to bounce back and win over 90 games even without Harper. The point is that even though Philly makes sense for a ton of reasons, it’s also not a spot that guarantees immediate success in terms of post season play.
Assuming these really are the teams that have made the most headway with Harper, then it should be pretty clear (if it wasn’t already) that he’s going where the biggest contract is offered. But with this unusual dynamic of the Yankees, Cubs and Red Sox all either being too clogged in the outfield or too close to to the luxury tax and the Dodgers playing this weird, unpredictable shell game, it’s opened the door for that contract to come from a surprising place.
This is why when you stop and think about it, the only thing really keeping Toronto from being squarely in the middle of this race is the front office’s commitment to staying the course of the plan they’ve been on since the 2017 season. On one level, I admire that dedication. It’s not easy to take a step back, accept this brand of baseball, and display the patience needed to fully turn the thing over. However, at some point you have to make the decision to start taking risks and adding to your future core.
I have a strong inkling that the Blue Jays’ plan is to start doing this next winter after they have another year to evaluate the upcoming prospect wave and can more accurately pinpoint their needs; but at some point, don’t you have to veer off course? Is there a point where Harper’s market ends up sinking enough to where you get involved? He’s young enough to still be great four or five years into his deal. He plays in the outfield so you can move some of your young players around accordingly without him blocking a spot, and he would instantly help you sell tickets, jerseys and advertising.
I don’t know where the “let’s change directions here” line of delineation is located or how far Harper’s market would have to crater for this group to get involved, but I have the unfortunate feeling that it’s located at a more stubborn point than what would ever allow the Jays to become true contenders here. Judging by the other clubs getting aggressive though, it may be time for Toronto to seriously reevaluate this potential shortcut on the road to rebuilding a contender.