Rival GM: I think Bryce Harper winds up with the Phillies

Bryce Harper will be a free-agent at the conclusion of the 2018 season. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Audio: Phillies Nation’s Tim Kelly talks Kingery, Bour, Santana on 97.3 ESPN

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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  1. JefC

    August 16, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    It’s like people saying, “Lebron will end up in Philly”. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • Matthew Veasey

      August 17, 2018 at 10:20 am

      Very true. That Lebron nonsense was really blown up. But it was also understandable. This coming off-season will be a real test for Phillies management and ownership. Do they have what it takes to persuade a mega-star in their prime to commit to this program for the next half-dozen years? There is no question that the money will be there for at least one, if not both, of these stars. Or even one, and another strong player. Ball will be in the Middleton-Klentak court after the World Series ends.

      • Tim Kelly

        August 18, 2018 at 2:29 pm

        I don’t think LeBron to Philly was blown up. He gave them a meeting, it just turned out that he had his mind set on things beyond basketball. From a team perspective, the Sixers gave him a much better chance to win. It will be interesting to see if Harper or Machado feel the Phillies give them a better chance to win.

  2. Nick

    August 17, 2018 at 9:17 am

    I keep going back and forth whether I’d prefer Harper or Machado. Coming into the season I definitely preferred Harper because I felt the ceiling was higher – looking at that MVP season, I just didn’t see a Manny season that stacked up. Then in the first half of this year it looked like Machado was at a new level and maybe Harper showed a lower floor than expected. Now their seasons have kind of normalized in the second half, but at least Manny looks like he has an MVP-caliber season in him. Plus he plays a position of need. I like that Harper is left-handed too and his OBP is always higher. His other downside though is that swing seems that it may not age well – the first 5 years of a deal may be better for Harper but the last 5 may be better for Machado.

    I’ve been fantasizing about this offseason for over a year now. Next year is gonna be a lot of fun.

    • Matthew Veasey

      August 17, 2018 at 10:17 am

      Let’s face it, both guys would look phenomenal in Phillies red pinstripes. Both guys would help improve the run production. Both guys are young enough that they would perform in their prime years for the next half-decade or so, and would thrive in the offensive environment at Citizens Bank Park. And if we’re really being honest, the Phillies can afford both guys at the same time. This off-season will be interesting, and management/ownership needs to step up to help the club take the next step.

      • Nick

        August 17, 2018 at 3:44 pm

        I also debate going after them both. The money is there but I think I only want one so that we can go after Trout in a couple years. We’ll have to pay Nola and Hoskins eventually so I think all four of them at the same time would start to add up too much. It’s dreaming, I know, but that’s my ideal world

  3. loupossehl

    August 17, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    The emergence of Maikel Franco this year places acquiring Manny Machado in a somewhat different perspective. At this point, would Machado over Franco represent an upgrade that was anything more than marginal? And at what financial cost?

    As I look at the Phillies’ OF, I don’t see one position where an upgrade wouldn’t be justified. Odubel? Up and down. Williams? Swing-and-a-miss. Rhys? In LF he does really well for a tight end. Gotta keep him in the lineup and 1B would be great – but how to do that is the question.

    Overall – keep Rhys in LF but upgrade CF and RF. And that means go big-time (all-out?) for Bryce Harper. A 3-4-5-6 in one order or another of Rhys, Harper, Franco and, say, an improving Nick Williams or a Wilson Ramos (!) or a PTBN could wreak devastation and greatly reduce the pressure on a really good pitching staff that’s been the chief reason for the Phillies’ turnaround and ability to contend this year.

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