USA Today baseball editor Gabe Lacques has made it a habit over the past two weeks to write about the possibilities of star free-agent Bryce Harper going to one team or another. He started on December 14th by positing whether the Diamondbacks would be a fit for Harper in the future. From there, he moved on to the Mariners, the Pirates, the Twins, the A’s, the Red Sox and the Dodgers. Most recently, on Boxing Day, Lacques decided to have the Blue Jays try on Harper for size, suggesting he’d be a great fit alongside the young players coming up through the Jays’ farm system, particularly Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Today, Lacques moved on to discuss Cleveland‘s possible interest in Harper.)
Should Blue Jays be honoured that Lacques’s Harper train arrived in Toronto on Boxing Day? I’m assuming that he’s going to write an article that focuses on each team’s possible roster with Harper in 2019. Lacques’s Harper fixation is palpable, seeing as every post he’s had in the last two weeks except for two have included Harper’s name in the headline.
So, are we really going to contemplate the Blue Jays signing a player who’s commanding at least a 10-year deal that will pay upwards of $30 million a year (after he rejected a 10-year, $300-million deal from the Nationals)? As Lacques correctly points out, yes, the Blue Jays can probably afford Bryce Harper and they probably won’t have to completely tank in order to rebuild the club around Vlad Jr. and have a competitive team in three years.
In fact, Lacques is also correct by suggesting that, should the Jays sign Harper, they would have Vlad and Harper under contract for up to seven years in the lineup together, which would make for a potent One-Two punch in the order.
That said, Lacques makes clear the trolliness of his series of posts by concluding that this scenario is “highly unlikely.”
The Blue Jays are clearly not interested in high-priced free agents right now. They’re looking for the best value they can get, and they’ve already got plenty of outfielders who are candidates to put up some decent numbers (with, barring a trade, Teoscar Hernandez, Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk in the starting roles and a cast of at least a half dozen ready to pick up the slack).
Harper had a somewhat down 1.3 rWAR (Baseball Reference) last year and 3.5 fWAR (Fangraphs). On the Baseball Reference scale, he was outperformed by both Kevin Pillar (2.5 rWAR) AND Randal Grichuk (2.2 rWAR in only 424 at bats) while he would have been an upgrade over Teoscar Hernandez’s 0.2 rWAR. Fangraphs looked a lot more highly on Harper and his 3.5 fWAR outperformed Pillar’s 2.0 fWAR, Grichuk’s 2.1 fWAR and Hernandez’s 0.3 fWAR.
What do all those numbers mean? It means that even in a down year, Harper was probably better than at least two of the three Blue Jays outfielders, depending on how you compute baserunning and defense. That said, the Jays aren’t looking to win next year and the $30-million-plus price tag on Bryce Harper is way too steep for this management team.
Look for the Jays’ free agent money to go for pitching. Lots of mediocre, scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel, hopefully-catching-lightning-in-a-bottle-with-some-upside pitching. Not for superstar outfielders. Thanks for the troll, Gabe.
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