Bryce Harper doesn’t plan to talk about his impending free agency during the season, but that won’t prevent others from continuing to speculate over the next seven months about where the Washington Nationals outfielder will be playing in 2019. Harper’s next contract will be a hot topic all summer, and if you’re not already sick of it, you might be by the Nationals’ home opener next Thursday.
In ESPN’s annual preseason survey of MLB executives, Jerry Crasnick asked 43 general managers, assistant GMs, personnel directors and scouts which team Harper will be playing for next season. A plurality (15.5) of the 38 people who responded to the question think Harper will re-sign with the Nationals, while the division rival Philadelphia Phillies were the second-most-popular pick with 10.5 votes. No, there aren’t any (known) centaurs in MLB’s ranks; Crasnick explains that half-points account for the wishy-washy respondents who split their votes between two teams. (C’mon, it’s an anonymous survey. Pick one team already.)
“I can see this becoming a situation where both parties realize they are familiar with and need each other,” one American League talent evaluator who thinks Harper will remain with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010 told Crasnick. “Why terminate a good relationship when both can find a way to make it work?”
The other teams that received votes in the survey were the Chicago Cubs (3.5), Los Angeles Dodgers (3), New York Yankees (2.5), Los Angeles Angels (2) and San Diego Padres (1). Any of those clubs would be preferable to seeing Harper in a Phillies uniform for the next 10 years.
The Phillies, who are in the midst of a rebuild, signed right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million deal earlier this month, and some believe they could contend for a wild-card spot this season.
“Even after their big offseason, they have a ton of financial flexibility,” an assistant general manager told Crasnick. “This would be a double-whammy to add Harper from a division rival’s roster.”
Three years ago, ESPN reporter Buster Olney suggested that Harper to the Yankees was “inevitable,” but that was before Aaron Judge was a star in New York and before the team signed slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Earlier this month, while answering a question on his “Baseball Tonight” podcast about Harper’s next contract, Olney made it clear he no longer sees the 2015 National League MVP ending up in pinstripes. Not blue pinstripes, anyway.
“Just before I came up to tape this podcast, I bumped into Scott Boras, who of course is the agent for Jake Arrieta, and he’s the agent for Bryce Harper,” Olney said. “I didn’t ask Scott this, but I guarantee you that what he would say is, ‘Buster, teams pay for talent.’ And Bryce Harper is a transcendent talent. I still think he has a chance to push the deal to $400 million and I would bet the family farm that Harper winds up with the Phillies or back with the Washington Nationals.”
Only six of the respondents in Crasnick’s ESPN survey think Harper will become baseball’s first $400 million man. Meanwhile, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman lists the Phillies among his seven teams most likely to sign Harper.
“The Phillies have money to burn with a huge TV contract and big revenues,” Heyman writes. “They just haven’t found the real impact guys to do it yet. It wouldn’t be a long move from Washington.”
Back in Harper’s home town of Las Vegas, or at least on one online sportsbook, the Cubs are the favorite to sign Harper, followed by the field (including the Phillies) and then the Nationals, Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and Yankees.
Read more on the Nationals: