Bryce Harper will likely sign a historic contract before the start of the 2019 MLB season. He’s already turned down a $300 million offer from the Washington Nationals, and the Philadelphia Phillies might be prepared to make him the highest-paid baseball player of all time.
But the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes hasn’t been the bidding war that it looked like it once would be. Only a handful of teams appear willing to make a realistic offer to the outfielder, who is aiming to sign a record-setting deal.
Spring training is only a few weeks away, and Harper remains unsigned. He likely hasn’t been offered a contract worth more than the $325 million deal Giancarlo Stanton signed in 2014. It wasn’t too long ago that baseball insiders were speculating Harper might make between $400 million and $500 million in free agency.
Why has no team blown Harper away with an offer?
The 26-year-old has already made six All-Star teams. He became the youngest unanimous MVP ever as a 23-year-old in 2015. Even if Harper signs a 10-year contract, his deal will be up before he reaches his late 30s.
Part of it is Harper’s inconsistencies and declining defense. In two of the last four years, the star has underperformed with a WAR that didn’t even surpass 1.5. He hit below .250 and slugged less than .500 in each of those seasons.
The market for Manny Machado also isn’t what it was projected to be in 2018. It sounds like the infielder might have to settle for far less than $300 million. Teams are more cautious about handing out lengthy deals than they once were.
Harper has been hurt by the lack of interest from teams in the biggest markets. Philadelphia has been open about potentially spending “stupid” money, so the Phillies might break the bank for Harper, but most of MLB’s teams with the deepest pockets aren’t looking to spend big on an outfielder.
A marriage between Harper and the New York Yankees once seemed like a perfect union. The Yankees decided to pay an outfielder a record-contract: it just happened 13 months ago when the team traded for Giancarlo Stanton, ultimately taking them out of the race for Harper.
New York could certainly find room for Harper on their roster if they chose to do so. They’ve been more interested in Machado, who could fill a need on the left side of the infield. The Yankees also don’t seem to want to go much further above the luxury tax following other moves this offseason.
The Boston Red Sox have the highest payroll in baseball, but they’ve got to worry about paying an outfielder that’s already on their roster. Boston just paid Mookie Betts $20 million to avoid arbitration, and they could give him a historic contract before he hits free agency in 2020.
The Chicago Cubs don’t seem willing to back up the Brink’s truck for Harper. The team is looking to curb spending after giving out a few big contracts in recent years. Chicago’s $184 million commitment to Jason Heyward has turned out to be a disaster.
The New York Mets usually aren’t in contention to land one of the top free agents, despite playing in the Big Apple.
The Los Angeles Dodgers showed interest in Harper at the start of the offseason. L.A. officials met with Harper and agent Scott Boras late in 2018, though they are likely out as a possible destination after signing A.J. Pollock for a fraction of what Harper will command.
Maybe Harper will get his desired contract from the Phillies, Nationals, Chicago White Sox or some mystery team, but you can bet he would have benefited greatly from having the league’s biggest spenders involved in the race to acquire him.