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Kris Bryant says Cubs were Bryce Harper’s preferred destination in free agency


Bryce Harper is entering the third season of a 13-year deal. (Ian D’Andrea)

In an alternate world, Las Vegas natives Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant could have teamed up on the Chicago Cubs after the 2018 season, leaving you wonder what direction the Philadelphia Phillies would have gone in.

Bryant, the 2016 National League MVP, told Red Line Radio this week that Harper, the 2015 National League MVP, was seriously interested in joining the Cubs when he became a free agent:

“He came to Chicago [the season before he hit free agency], he played us and we went to dinner one night …. And we were just talking and I was like ‘Man, it would be super cool if you came to Chicago.’ And he’s like ‘Honestly, it’s top of my list.’

“And I thought we really had a chance to get him. You know, I kind of forget the situation, exactly who we signed or whatever, but he really loves Chicago. He loves coming to the city, eating there … who doesn’t like going to Chicago. I’m kind of bummed out we missed out on that opportunity.”

Via Bleacher Nation

For however interested Harper may have been in the Cubs, the team never made a serious play for him. However, Chicago’s other team, the White Sox, showed interest and the feeling between the two sides was mutual:

“I loved that blue-collar feel on the south side of Chicago,” Harper said in May of 2019 on Barstool Sports’ Starting 9 podcast. “It was kind of like ‘Man, they can be a good team.’ They’ve got a lot of good arms. They got (Michael) Kopech. They got (Reynaldo) López. They got (Lucas) Giolito…They had a lot of good guys and I was like ‘Who is going to hit behind me?’ And I was like ‘Oh shoot, big ole’ first baseman (José Abreu).’ That’s huge for me because he goes about his business, hits .280 every year with 25 (home runs) quietly and nobody really talks about it. But he’s a very good guy to hit behind me. So that was a big thing as well.”

That said, while there was fondness from both sides, the White Sox evidently were more intrigued by Manny Machado. At the time, Chicago offered Machado an eight-year/$250 million deal, a pretty fair offer, but he instead opted to sign with the San Diego Padres for 10 years and $300 million. It’s unclear whether a serious offer was ever exchanged between the White Sox and Harper, though if Harper had joined a young nucleus that includes Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez – with the aforementioned José Abreu still in the mix as well – the White Sox might be World Series favorites right now.

It’s hard to know what then-general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies would have done if they didn’t land Harper. Machado signed prior to Harper, and, right or wrong, many Phillies fans were down on him after a tumultuous postseason with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It’s possible that the can would have been kicked to the following offseason, when Harper’s former Washington Nationals teammate Anthony Rendon became a free agent. Waiting on a chance to trade for or sign future Hall of Famer Mike Trout ultimately would have proved to be a poor decision, though the Phillies theoretically could have been in play for Mookie Betts before the 2020 season, one of the few players in the league definitively better than Harper.

Over the course of Harper’s first two seasons in red pinstripes, he’s slashed .262/.385/.518 with 48 home runs, 147 RBIs and a .903 OPS. To this point, though, Harper hasn’t been able to help snap a lengthy postseason drought. He, like many in the Delaware Valley, hope that year three of his 13-year/$330 million pact doesn’t also coincide with the 10th straight season without postseason baseball in Philadelphia.

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