There are a lot of reasons for the Mets not to give Bryce Harper the time of day this offseason. His salary demands are outrageous, he’s a corner outfielder and the Mets don’t need any more of those, the Mets announcers openly questioned his hustle and commitment last year and perhaps most damning of all – he played 159 games last season and managed just a 3.5 fWAR. Why break the bank for that type of production?
However, the year before Harper had a 4.8 fWAR in 111 games and he also has a 9.3 fWAR season on his resume. These types of guys don’t grow on trees and when one becomes available, you owe it to yourself to give his candidacy more than five seconds of consideration. And then throw in the fact that he’ll be in his age 26 season in 2019 and there’s still potentially a lot to like.
There has been a whole lot more speculation surrounding the Mets and the other high-profile free agent available this offseason, Manny Machado. But the same red flags around Harper show up for Machado, too. He’s going to want a huge paycheck, the Mets already have guys at the two positions he’s played the most – and one of their top prospects, only a year or so away, is a shortstop, too – and Machado’s hustle and sportsmanship have been questioned. Oh and in 2017, Machado turned in a 2.6 fWAR in 156 games.
Machado has been more consistent than Harper, posting an fWAR in the 6.2-6.6 range in three of the last four seasons. He also has the advantage of being a RHB, which the Mets need to help balance the lineup. But he doesn’t have the same heights that Harper achieved in his MVP season of 2015. And while Harper bats lefty, he’s far from an easy out for southpaws. His lifetime OPS versus lefties is .796 and that number is being dragged down by his first two years in the league. In 2017, he had an .802 mark against southpaws and last year he had an .857 mark.
If money is available for Harper, the big question is: Where does he play? As long as Yoenis Cespedes is out, that’s easy. Harper plays right field with Brandon Nimmo in center, Michael Conforto in left and Jay Bruce at first base. The Mets even have the option of rotating all three outfielders in and out of the center field position. Harper played 63 games in the middle last year, although not particularly well. Playing him in center is not a preferred choice but it’s at least an option for his manager. If and when Cespedes comes back, they can pay someone to take Bruce off their hands and then play Cespedes at first.
Is it ideal? No but these are the types of things you do when a talent like Harper becomes available. And let’s not pretend that there aren’t issues about fitting Machado in the lineup. Everyone thinks you just move Todd Frazier to the bench and slot Machado in at third base. But this time last year, Machado announced to the world that he didn’t want to play third base. He came up through the minors as a shortstop and only moved to third base because that’s where the opening was in the majors.
Last year he played just 16 games and 143 innings at third base. Are we sure he’s going to be overjoyed with moving back to the hot corner? And if he insists on being a shortstop, will the Mets be happy with Amed Rosario playing third base? And what happens when Andres Gimenez is ready for the majors?
With either Harper or Machado you jump through hoops to make it happen and figure out the details later. With Harper, there are no major hoops right away, as there is an OF slot available right now.
One thing that gets lost in the shuffle is the effect it would have on the other teams in the division. It seems that everyone has Harper going to the Phillies. But what would it be like if he went to the Mets, instead? How crushing was it the last few years to watch all of Daniel Murphy’s success with the Nationals? Imagine if Harper was providing that type of lift to the Mets, all while delivering a stomach punch to the Nationals. And the Phillies, too.
My first option in free agency would be Craig Kimbrel. But if Kimbrel didn’t work out for any reason, I would consider Harper.
However, my belief is that Harper is not remotely on the Mets’ radar, so this is all pure fantasy. And as long as we’re dealing in fantasy, let’s take it to the limit. When Harper was an amateur he played a different position. When he was growing up, Harper was a catcher. Can you imagine how sweet it would be to have Harper’s production and solve the catching issue, too? Unfortunately, Harper has not played a single game as a catcher as a professional, dating back to 2010.