2018: .249/.393/.496, 34 HR, 13 SB, 130 BB, 169 SO, .317 TAv, 5.4 WARP
How He Fits: Well, uh, yeah. He’s Bryce Harper. A team that struggled with its consistency on the offensive side of the ball in 2018 could do well to add one of the premier sluggers in the game to an already potent lineup, on paper. Harper has had some inconsistencies throughout his career that have left some questioning whether or not he’s truly worth shelling out a record contract for. But even through some of those peaks and valleys, we’ve seen Harper emerge with the fourth-highest OBP in baseball since 2015, at a .410 mark. His 129 homers are ninth over that span, with an ISO that ranks 13th, at .259. That’s out of 287 qualifying hitters over the last four seasons.
Focusing on just 2018, his performance was probably better than the overall numbers might indicate. He hit just .214 in the first half, which was brought about largely by a brutal .226 BABIP. He still flashed the power, with an ISO over .250, and was maintaining a hard hit rate over 40 percent. The second half numbers, where he hit .300 and posted an OBP over .430, are impeccable. He also maintained a hard hit rate over 44 percent and made strong contact to all fields, with an oppo rate that jumped to over 31 percent in the second half of the season. With figures like that in mind, it’s almost impossible to characterize his 2018 as a “down year” even though many still will.
On the fielding side, replacing Jason Heyward with Harper in right would be an obvious downgrade. But having someone like Heyward in center to help compensate for Harper’s average, at best, defense would go a long way toward mitigating those concerns. Of course, this is also in the apparently unlikely event that both Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper are on the Cubs’ roster in 2019.
At the end of the day, the fit is obvious. The Cubs need help on offense. The easiest place to put that help is in the outfield. Bryce Harper is the guy. But just as obvious as the fit are some of the hurdles they’d have to overcome…
Why It Won’t Work: Money. Something we first thought was no object coming into the offseason, at least in regard to Bryce Harper, quickly turned into concern pouring out of the North Side that the Cubs don’t have a lot of money to play around with. For anybody, not just Harper. Somebody like the White Sox or the Giants could probably throw more money at Harper than the Cubs likely can. Does a project like those clubs serve as a more appealing destination for someone who has yet to get out of the first round of the postseason? That remains to be seen, given that we haven’t heard a ton out of Harper’s camp, outside of Scott Boras’s declaration that his client has the ability to play anywhere. Regardless, the dollars are going to be the biggest obstacle that the Cubs have to overcome in order to reign in Theo’s white whale. And it’s a significant one. Early rumors have the Cubs in such dire financial straits that they’re left with the flexibility to shoehorn in a couple of relievers and a backup catcher. If it’s that bad, then Harper is obviously as much of a pipe dream for the Cubs as he is for about 23 or so franchises in baseball. Which would be an obvious tragedy.
As far as more minor obstacles are concerned, there’s still a logjam in the outfield. In bringing in Harper, the Cubs would likely have to move someone like Ian Happ, Albert Almora, or even Kyle Schwarber off the active roster. Such a move would allow Jason Heyward to slide over to center and Harper into right. A move of Heyward himself isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility either, if they were confident in their ability to land Bryce. But you’d be sacrificing a lot of defense in doing so.
Alternatives: Michael Brantley could be a nice upside play in the outfield, as a cheaper alternative. The issue with him may be the same as it could be with Andrew McCutchen or Nick Markakis, who represent a pair of additional alternatives in the outfield. It’s more than likely the years. How many years are you willing to dish out to any of those guys? Probably fewer than they’re looking for. And a team like Atlanta might be willing to shell out more for Brantley than the Cubs are, with their apparent financial limitations and all. With the term and money being a hurdle in any of these guys, they’re sure as hell not going to be in play for A.J. Pollock, right? Marwin González can play the outfield, so there’s that. At this point I really sound like I’m talking myself into Bryce Harper over any of these guys. Because that’s a thing that was necessary, apparently.
Lead photo courtesy Geoff Burke—USA Today Sports