Bryce Harper is staying in the National League East! The Braves are thereby doomed!
Hold on a sec. Hasn’t Bryce Harper been in the NL East all along? And haven’t teams without Bryce Harper won the division three times over the past six seasons? And weren’t two of those teams the Braves, who went from division champ to deep-dish rebuilder to division champ in the space of those six years? Why, yes indeed.
Harper will help make Philadelphia better than it was last year. But is he, by his hirsute self, enough to bridge the gap of 10 games between the division-winning Braves and the third-place Phillies? No. Maybe he and J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson – all of them offseason Philly imports – will be enough to make up those 10 games, but I’m still not sure the Phillies with Harper look as good as the Nationals without him, and I’m not sure either club will be better than the local nine. (And don’t get me started on the Mets.)
Harper has been in the majors since 2012 and has had one great year. That great year was in 2015. His aggregate WAR over the past three seasons, as gauged by Baseball-Reference, is 7.5. Freddie Freeman’s is 17.1. Harper is a bad outfielder who – give him credit – hits home runs and draws walks. He’s not nearly the best player in baseball, although the Phillies will be paying him as if he is.
Reports hold that Harper is signing for 13 years at $330 million, which is $30 million more than Manny Machado got. As much as you might love seeing Harper on your roster, you must also ask: Will we, six (or 12!) years hence, love seeing him on our payroll? He’s 26, which means his best years could be ahead, but the guess is that he’ll never have another season like 2015, when he posted a 10.0 WAR and was the unanimous MVP. It would be one thing if he’d dipped a bit but still was mustering 7.5 WARs; Harper has gone three years without breaking 5.0.
Put it this way: The Nationals drafted him No. 1 overall and made him, along with fellow 1-1 Stephen Strasburg, the centerpieces of their organization. Strasburg is still in D.C. Harper was allowed to leave, and now the Natituders will have to face him 19 times a year. I expect they’re OK with that. They now have $330 million to spend that the Phillies won’t. Harper is 26, and we’re still talking about what he might become; Mike Trout is 27 and we’re talking about what he has been for a half-dozen years now, which is the unchallenged best player in baseball.
I might well be wrong – that happens often – but I’ll offer this: I think the Braves will finish ahead of the Phillies again. I think the Phillies have spent too big. I think the Braves will, in the long run, be better served for having trusted their farm system than to have authored a go-for-the-gold offseason. I know that might be a minority opinion in Braves Country today, but there it is.
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