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What’s going on? Why are two of the best young players in the game still free agents? Are they refusing to take less than some astronomical number? Are they not receiving any even remotely acceptable offers? It seems that it’s a combination of the two and it seems to be heavily influenced by the luxury tax. The luxury tax was supposed to keep teams from spending too much on players, but it turned into a de facto salary cap instead. Teams are so hesitant to go over it, that even the Boston Red Sox who are in a dire need of bullpen help, are refusing to spend on quality relievers at all. It’s a terrible situation and one that should be an issue when the current CBA expires in a few years.
THE CASE FOR SIGNING BRYCE HARPER
Harper is a legitimate 40 home run bat who also offers speed and arguably the best plate discipline in the Majors. He led the Majors with 130 walks in 2018 and regularly draws over 100 walks each season. He also is as close to Mike Trout as possible, or at least was for one season. In 2015 he slashed .330/.460/.649 and took home the NL MVP. The problem with Harper is that he’s injury prone and inconsistent. He was unable to play a full season for his first three years due to injuries, had a great 2015, likely played injured in 2016, missed a big part of 2017 and was finally healthy in 2018, only to struggle defensively and bat .249/.393/.496 due to an abnormally low BABIP for most of the season. Harper is also 26 and only entering his prime years. What is he worth? I think that the rumored 10 years is too much and 7-8 years is better. In fact, 5 years is probably ideal. What about AAV? $25-30 million seems fair, but his inconsistency and health issues are major red flags. He’s a gamble but potentially one that is worth the investment. He’s very marketable and I think that he can repeat his 2015. Due to his inconsistency, he should be willing to take a 1 year deal, but if not then 5-6 years at $33 million should be more than fair.
THE CASE FOR SIGNING MANNY MACHADO
Consistency and production. Machado hasn’t hit less than 33 home runs since 2015, is an elite defender at third base (though prefers to play shortstop) and has played at least 156 games a season since well that same 2015. He is also 26 and just entering his prime. He definitely has a good case for an 8-10 year deal and $30 million a year in AAV. In fact maybe even $32-33 considering how consistent he is.
TEAMS THAT SHOULD BE TRYING TO SIGN THEM
I should preface this by saying that I don’t know how much they are actually looking for, but that it makes sense for these teams to offer them the aforementioned deals. If they want more, then let another team overpay, but these offers should be on the table. Philadelphia, the Chicago White Sox and San Diego are reportedly in on both so I won’t talk about them.
1. NEW YORK YANKEES
The Bronx Bombers need a lefty bat in a righty heavy lineup and a lefty with Harper’s power would be perfect in Yankee Stadium. In two years they get Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and potentially even Giancarlo Stanton off the books. The money is there and even the luxury tax hit shouldn’t be an issue for a team with their revenue and considering how they went a decade without winning a World Series, while Boston won two in that time span. It’s also arguable that not signing DJ Lemahieu and non-tendering Didi Gregorius to sign Machado would’ve been better. George Steinbrenner would’ve tried to sign both and I’m not sure that I would blame him. How often does a team have a chance to sign one of the best young players in the game?
2. ATLANTA BRAVES
They just won the division and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last season. Their right fielder Nick Markakis hit free agency and…… they re-signed him instead of signing Harper. I don’t know if they actually tried, but they were never even connected to him. Why not? They barely have any contracts on the books and signing Harper would energize the fanbase and give them one of the best lineups in the game. How could they really stuck with a declining Markakis? It just doesn’t make any sense to me and seems be unnecessarily and embarrassingly cheap of their ownership to do.
3. MINNESOTA TWINS
They have no money on the books after 2020, so why aren’t they alongside Philadelphia as the top team pursuing them? Machado can fit at either shortstop or third base. They can move Miguel Sano to first base to make room for Machado and Jorge Polanco is certainly not blocking Machado at shortstop. Harper isn’t going to be blocked by Max Kepler in right field either. It’s possible that neither player would want to play in Minnesota, but it would make sense for both teams to make a strong push anyway. What if they actually sign one of them? It would energize their fan base and make the team a more acceptable destination to other free agents.
4. CHICAGO CUBS
The Cubs talked about fixing the offense but didn’t even try to actually do it. Machado would’ve been a perfect fit for the middle of the batting order. He could’ve signed to play shortstop, with Javier Baez moving back over to second base. He also would’ve been an insurance policy at third base in case Kris Bryant leaves as a free agent in a few years. The team’s current penny pinching is simply unacceptable when they won their first World Series in 108 years just 3 years ago. This is an opportunity that might not happen again for a long time and their biggest rivals, who typically don’t spend this much, are actually heavily in on both Harper and Machado. It’s simply embarrassing and not something that should be happening.
5. NEW YORK METS
If they’re serious about contending, they need to act like a big market team that they are and pursue Machado. Amed Rosario should certainly not be the obstacle keeping it from happening and neither should Todd Frazier or Jed Lowrie. It would also send a message that they’re able to acquire top players and make them an attractive destination for other free agents. Their ownership should be tired of the Yankees being treated as basically the only New York City team by the industry.
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado should be heavily pursued by most teams, but instead they’re still free agents with Spring Training around the corner.