Last week, the San Francisco Giants, inexplicably, made a splash in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. The Giants’ CEO, the President of Baseball Ops., and manager Bruce Bochy met with Harper and camp in Las Vegas for nearly 4 hours, twice as long as was scheduled. Do I think the Giants will actually land Harper? I do not. I still think he ends up in Philly. However, I believe this situation speaks to a few issues facing baseball now and in the future.
The fact that Harper is talking with the Giants is not the biggest problem here, simply because we are talking about the Giants.
But, fine, I’ll play ball: let’s play pretend that Harper signs with the Giants. This is a club that has 3 World Series titles in the last ten years and is not at all in the business of blockbuster free agency deals. Their most successful free agency deal in recent memory was Aubrey Huff in 2010. Wahoo! They are the 14th biggest MLB market and I’d wager 25% of that is because the ballpark formerly known as AT&T Park, (now Oracle Park) is fantastic.
Harper signing with the Giants would be out of character for the club, and would relegate one of the best current ballers to west coast irrelevance, a la Mike Trout. Good luck staying up for a 10 PM east coast start…
For me, personally, this is a club whose fan base looks down on people who consume hotdogs and light beer during a ballgame. Boooo! In all likelihood, Harper’s availability probably meant the Giants felt obligated to figure out what the hell is going on with the business of baseball here.
We’re curious too!
Some might say Harper is being greedy. Doubtful. This guy has seen, second hand what happens to the Ian Desmonds of the world, when they get too money hungry. Harper is a guy that is worth $300+ Million. He knows it, all MLB clubs know it, and his agent Scott Boras sure as hell knows it. Scott’s doing his due diligence.
The fact that Harper remains unsigned speaks to a broader issue that we have been seeing in baseball organizations. A trend that dates back a few seasons now. A trend that was in our face at the trade deadline in the 2018 season when it took ages for someone to trade for ‘Big Domino’ Manny Machado.
The problem here is that clubs are not thinking for themselves. They look at Harper (and Machado) and think about the Albert Pujols contract that didn’t have the legs (or feet, HA!) to produce a meaningful ROI, and say, “Let’s not be the Angels”.
Yes, don’t be the Angels. Don’t be a club who signs a 30 something out-of-prime slugger with plantar fasciitis. What is a no brainer is the fact that you DO sign a 20- something, who is primed for some of the most productive seasons of his career in the next couple of years.
Every club in baseball can afford Harper, and the superstar would instantly add value to any team, on both sides of the ball. Of course we are working with incomplete information as teams are getting better about protecting and controlling the flow of information around these free agencies. But, come on, the dude’s performance speaks for itself. He is a star.
Of course, this awkward dance cannot, and will not last. The Harpers and Machados of free agency will eventually get signed, but the fact that the Giants even made the list of teams is a benchmark that signals an unsettling future for player acquisitions. Handcuffing the best players in baseball in search of ‘the best deal’ is setting us up for some truly difficult CBA negotiations at the end of the 2021 season. My guess is that this will be a big piece of the puzzle that will lead us to a strike in baseball.
And while that would be fantastic content for us, it would be bad for fans, bad for players, bad for the business, and bad for the sport.