Once upon a time, there was heavy speculation that Bryce Harper would join fellow Las Vegas native Kris Bryant on the Chicago Cubs when he became a free agent after the 2018 season. That didn’t happen, but as Harper prepares for his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies, there’s once again talk of him and Bryant teaming up.
Harper reported to Clearwater for Spring Training Sunday, and while he didn’t squash the idea of trading for Bryant, he sounded excited about the potential for top position prospect Alec Bohm, a natural third baseman, to make his major league debut in 2020.
“I mean, you have to have certain guys on your team that make less money to also have guys that make more money, as well,” Harper said to the collective media, including Meghan Montemurro of The Athletic. “Kris, of course, you want an All-Star caliber player, but we have [Alec] Bohm. We have a big-time third baseman and we were able to get him in the draft. Of course, any time you’re able to add an All-Star caliber player, you’re going to want to add an All-Star player. But you have to be able to know you developed a player in the minor leagues that can also help you at third base, and Bohm could be that guy for us. He could come up and be one of the best third basemen in the second half or whatever it is. As a team, you have to have guys that like that, that are only making the league minimum so you can go spend at the deadline.”
“If the Cubs aren’t where they are, you never know at the half what they’re going to be doing. He could be cheaper at that point. But I can’t give up Spencer Howard and Bohm, and possibly give up our whole future, for a year and a half of KB if we don’t sign him to an extension. And I know there’s a guy in there that we need to sign to an extension. I think having a guy like J.T. [Realmuto] for the next six years would help us.”
Phillies Nation‘s Jonny Heller estimates that the team is less than $10 million away from the $208 million luxury tax threshold. If Realmuto and Hector Neris win their upcoming arbitration cases, the Phillies will have less than $5 million before the luxury tax threshold. President Andy MacPhail said Friday that he hopes the Phillies go over the luxury tax threshold at some point in 2020, but cautioned that he doesn’t believe that it’s sustainable to consistently be over the luxury tax. Bryant is due to make $18.6 million in 2020, and will probably get more expensive in 2021. After that, he’ll either need to be rewarded with a long-term megadeal or he’ll be able to exit in free agency.
Meanwhile, Bohm is years away from becoming arbitration eligible, let alone reaching free agency. The best case scenario for his career may be that he develops into a player like Bryant, but as Harper mentioned, he’ll be significantly cheaper than Bryant for the foreseeable future, complimenting more expensive players like Harper himself, Andrew McCutchen, Jake Arrieta, Zack Wheeler, and eventually, J.T. Realmuto.
There are legitimate questions about whether Bohm will be able to stick at third base defensively, but there’s next to nothing that suggests he won’t be a middle-of-the-order batter at the major league level. A season ago, Bohm slashed .305./.378/.518 with 21 home runs, 80 RBIs and an .896 OPS in 475 at-bats across three different levels. He finished the 2019 season at Double-A Reading, and the guess here is he’ll open 2020 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. As Harper said, he has a chance to make a major impact with the Phillies in the second half of the season, if not earlier.
Harper also mentioned RHP Spencer Howard, who has leapfrogged Bohm in some lists as the team’s top overall prospect. Though the Phillies will have to be cautious with how many innings Howard pitches in 2020, he demonstrated front-line potential across four levels last season, posting a 2.03 ERA in 15 starts. Given that the Phillies traded Sixto Sanchez to the Miami Marlins last February, it feels especially vital that they graduate Howard to the major leagues and he makes an impact for a team that doesn’t have a ton in the way of starting pitching certainty outside of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.
Truth be told, all of this is probably a moot point. Though there’s some indication that the Cubs may be hoping from a better offer for Bryant from the Phillies, Montemurro reported last week that the Phillies and Cubs “right now don’t see themselves as a match.”
As Harper said, it’s not as though he would be against a trade for Bryant, that would be silly. But the 27-year-old sounds pretty keen about hitting in the middle of the lineup with Bohm, and fielding behind Howard at Citizens Bank Park too.
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