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A lot has been said about how teams were unusually quiet in the pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. I wasn’t too surprised however, Harper had been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his career and Machado was a very good but not great player, that was expecting to be paid as if he was the former. We’re now at the All-Star break and neither contract looks particularly worth it.
Machado currently has a 2.1 rWAR and an almost identical 1.9 fWAR. If he simply repeats this production in the second half, we’re talking about a 4.2 rWAR and a a 4.0 fWAR player. His batting line is currently .266/.339/.489 and he has 20 homers in 351 AB’s with a 116 wRC+. He certainly isn’t playing as the star that he’s being paid to be. He’s also been overshadowed by Fernando Tatis Jr. San Diego look like they would’ve been be far better off spending their money on starting pitching instead of on a franchise altering Machado contract.
Would signing Machado have benefited the New York Yankees or the Chicago White Sox. He would likely have played third base in New York and short stop or third base in Chicago. DJ LeMahieu has produced 3.9 rWAR for New York. On the Chicago side of things, 3B Yoan Moncada produced a 2.8 rWAR and SS Tim Anderson a 1.7 rWAR. All of these players are also playing for much less money than Machado. What about other teams that seemed as if they were good fits? The Atlanta Braves chose Josh Donaldson and received 2.3 rWAR for much less and if they would’ve played Machado at SS instead of Dansby Swanson, it would be a mild improvement over his 1.6 rWAR. I don’t think that there’s a point to go on.
I think that front offices had an idea of what to expect from Machado and believed that he wasn’t worth his asking price. Philadelphia badly wanted a superstar, but chose who they thought was a better player. San Diego saw an unusual opportunity to land a superstar and did so, ultimately it turned out to be an overlay that they should’ve avoided. It’s of course possible that Machado will turn things around, but right now it seems that teams were right not to break the bank to sign him.
Harper came with a higher upside than Machado. He was seen as a generational prospect who was just above average at best in 2012-2014. Then came 2015, in which Harper won the NL MVP with a 197 wRC+ and a 10.0 rWAR. He’s been streaky since, either not producing at an elite level or getting injured soon after producing at such a level. Let’s look at how he’s doing so far this season: he has 1.4 rWAR, 2.0 fWAR, 118 wRC+ and a .253/.370/.470 batting line with 16 homers in 332 AB’s. He certainly isn’t producing as a franchise player. It’s possible of course that he eventually will, but for now it’s hard to blame the teams that didn’t sign him.
The Bronx Bombers were long rumored to be interested in Harper, but were apparently not interested when he actually hit free agency. Had he signed and been used in left field, he actually would’ve been worse than Brett Gardner, who provided 2.2 rWAR and had he played first base and delivered the same rWAR (though thsts debatable due to the position switch), he would’ve been worse than Luke Voit and his 1.7 rWAR. Looking towards the Los Angeles Dodgers, Harper would’ve likely played right field with Cody Bellinger and his 6.6 rWAR moving to center field and displacing A.J. Pollock and his -0.5 rWAR. Of course Bellinger’s rWAR would’ve likely fallen due to the defensive switch, but it seems as if at least here Harper would’ve been an upgrade. I’m not going to bother mentioning his suitors from San Francisco, as he would definitely an upgrade there, but he also would’ve been on a poor team in desperate need of a rebuild.
It does seem as if Harper would’ve helped LA, had they signed him, but something tells me that he really wouldn’t have moved the needle when it comes to LA winning the World Series in a significant way. Ultimately, LA shouldn’t have signed Pollock (based on this season at least) but I’m not sure that investing in Harper would really have improved them that much.
Harper and Machado were not as heavily pursued as expected, but it seems that teams had the right idea about them. Neither one is a real franchise player worth their current contract and Philadelphia and San Diego May ultimately end up regretting both contracts.