Even in a season where the Philadelphia Phillies are competing for the postseason for the first time since 2011, there have been stretches where the offense collectively goes into a slump, and it feels like the club lacks an offensive stopper. It’s long been thought that general manager Matt Klentak will look to add an elite offensive force to address that concern this offseason.
In fact, one anonymous general manager told Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports that he believes the Phillies will ultimately sign six-time All-Star Bryce Harper this offseason:
“I think Harper winds up with the Phillies,” one rival GM predicted.
Nearly every indication is that the Phillies first target this offseason will be Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado. However, earlier this month I took a look at some other targets that the Phillies could pursue if they aren’t able to land Machado. Harper was one of the names I mentioned.
Like Machado, Harper will be 26 years old when he reaches free-agency this offseason. Unlike Machado, Harper isn’t having a career offensive year in his long-anticipated walk year. In fact, he’s been underwhelming by his standards. Despite making his sixth consecutive All-Star appearance and winning the Home Run Derby, Harper entered Thursday evening hitting just .239. However, it is worth pointing out that after hitting just .214 prior to the All-Star Break, Harper has hit .337 in the 24 games since the All-Star Break. That’s not especially surprising when you consider that his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) at the All-Star Break was over 100 points lower than the .356 mark he finished the season with in 2017.
Additionally, Harper was never really having a bad season. His batting average was low, but he has baseball’s third highest walk percentage, is tied for second in the National League with 30 home runs and has driven in 74 runs. Harper also has a 22.4 offensive WAR. He remains one of the sport’s best offensive threats, even in a season that is disappointing by the high standard that he has set.
The question this offseason will be what his value on the open market will be. A couple of years ago, there was a school of thought that believed at age 26, he could get a free-agent contract that approached $50 million annually. That’s not going to happen. It will be interesting to see what value teams do ultimately place on Harper this offseason, and whether he and his agent Scott Boras are willing to accept a contract that is still probably historic financially, but quite a bit less than he once appeared to be destined to get.
Then again, it will only take one team for Harper to rewrite the financial record books. This is someone that in 2015 slashed .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs, a 77.7 offensive WAR and a 9.3 fWAR. Here’s a list of right fielders in the Hall of Fame or with Hall of Fame credentials that never put up a 9.3 fWAR in a season: Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Larry Walker and Ichiro Suzuki. Harper did it when he was 22. Perhaps that season was a fluke (although even if he gets close to that he’ll be a Hall of Famer himself), but it’s hard to shake how good it was so early in his career.
But Harper isn’t easy to evaluate. After a down season in 2016, he was having an MVP caliber season in 2017 before a freak injury in which he slipped on first base limited him to just 111 games. And his 2018 season has further clouded the picture of his free-agency. Perhaps he’ll sign a deal (probably with the Nationals) that allows him to reach free-agency again next offseason if he puts together an MVP campaign in 2019.
What is easy to evaluate is that if Gabe Kapler was able to pencil in Harper, Carlos Santana and Rhys Hoskins into three of the first four spots in his lineup, the Phillies would be in pretty good shape.
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