Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will forever be linked. Harper was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, with Machado going two picks later. Both reached the major league level at age 19. Around 2015, it became apparent that both had the chance to become free-agents after the 2018 season at age 26. Both did become free-agents, with Machado signing a record 10-year/$300 million deal with the San Diego Padres, with that standing as a record only until Harper signed a 13-year/$330 million deal the next month.
Harper and Machado have 10 combined All-Star appearances and find themselves on Hall of Fame tracks in their respective careers. Monday evening, Harper and Machado will meet for the first time since the two joined new teams on historic contracts. The early returns on both? They’ve been very good, not great yet.
Harper will enter the Phillies three-game series with the Padres slashing .248/.360/.486 with a .847 OPS, 11 home runs, 43 RBIs and 37 walks, which, in the National League, only trails his teammates, Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen. Harper isn’t having a historic season – which some thought he would after he hit three home runs in his first four games as a Phillie – and he does currently lead the majors in strikeouts. Still, it’s hard to quantify the impact that Harper’s presence in the lineup has had on Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, among others. And his recent production – Harper has a .435 batting average with nine RBIs in the last week – suggests that by the All-Star Break, he’ll be among the National League’s best offensive performers.
Meanwhile, Machado – who now plays his home games at Petco Park, which isn’t exactly a hitter’s paradise – is slashing .251/.339/.412 with a .751 OPS, nine home runs, 27 RBIs and 26 walks. While Machado’s presence has drastically improved the Padres lineup – along with a bounce-back season from Eric Hosmer – there certainly isn’t as much offensive talent in San Diego as there is in Philadelphia. Nor do the Padres play their home games at Citizens Bank Park. But it is notable that in a season where Harper appears to just now be hitting his stride, he comfortably tops Machado in nearly every offensive metric.
Of course, part of the appeal to Machado was his defense, which had been world class at third base. Given that Fernando Tatis Jr. has been on the injured list since late April, Machado has actually played a few more innings at shortstop. Machado may still consider himself a shortstop, but he has -1 defensive runs saved in 252.2 innings at shortstop. However, at third base, Machado has four defensive runs saved. Machado has won two Gold Glove Awards at third base and while he may not have quite the range he did when he first broke into the league, he’s still one of the better defensive third basemen in the league.
While Machado is a superior defender to Harper – and third base is probably a more important position than right field – Harper has had a relative bounce-back year defensively. After posting a -18.1 defensive WAR in 2018, Harper has a 2.5 defensive WAR in 2019, which would be the first time he finishes the season with a positive defensive WAR since his rookie season in 2012. A year ago, in right field alone, Harper had -16 defensive runs saved. In 2019, he has two defensive runs saved. Harper also has four outfield assists already in 2019. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove Award in right field, but he’s been far from a liability in 2019.
With Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant, Eugenio Suarez and Eduardo Escobar all having strong seasons at third base, Machado will face an uphill battle to make his fifth All-Star team. Harper, on the other hand, has the fifth-highest fWAR among everyday outfielders, even if you factor in that Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich have a gigantic lead on players like Harper and Michael Conforto. Given that Harper is arguably the most recognizable face in baseball, it’s hard to envision him not making his seventh All-Star team this July.
Most importantly, Harper and Machado’s teams will enter this series in a better situation than they were a year ago. The Padres, who haven’t had a winning record since 2010, are 30-29. The Phillies, who collapsed in the final two months of the 2018 season, are 33-26 and in first place in the National League East. It won’t happen this year, but it’s entirely possible that before their contracts are completed, Harper and Machado could meet in the playoffs with their new teams. For now, they’ll settle for a three-game series in June.
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