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Atlanta Braves Morning Chop: on Bryce Harper

In the great tradition of twitter, there just isn’t a lot of down time – once the season ends, people immediately start moving to the next things.  Good times.

As good as they were in 2018, the Atlanta Braves are not going to have the same look in 2019, that much is certain.  But just how radical those changes become… that’s up for debate.

Already, there’s a lot of discussion about what to do about right field next season.  One thing I’ve seen nothing about:  any notion of a return for Nick Markakis.

Apparently, it’s ‘thanks Nick… good luck elsewhere’.

That’s kind of understandable, but still quite a bit annoying to see:  Nick played his tail off this year – finally fully healthy and showing what he could really do.

He wasn’t spectacular but he was steady and he earned his contract.  Over 4 years in Atlanta:

  • Missed only 11 games (there were 161 games played in 2016)
  • No fewer than 670 plate appearances
  • 5.7 fWAR (with 2.6 of that this season)
  • Averaged .284 hitting (.297 this season)

Teams need players like this – and hopefully the ‘youngsters’ on the roster got that message.  So far, signs are good on that front.

But the handwriting seems to be on the wall.  Thanks for four solid years, Nick.

 

The Harper Valley PTA? (‘player to acquire’)

Instead, of course, we’re all now a’twitter over the prospect of signing free agent Bryce Harper.

That fire was kindled thanks to comments from TheAthletic writer David O’Brien via an interview on 92.9/The Game yesterday:

“If you wanted a Bryce Harper you could do it, it’s just if you want to go spend that money, because you have the money to do it,” said O’Brien. “You don’t have any huge salaries except Freddie’s. They could make him an offer, because I don’t know if he gets $35 million a year.”

and more…

“…Freddie Freeman has become good friends with Bryce Harper, and he’s been campaigning for him to come here and join the Braves…”

Okay, here’s my takes on this… first on the positive side:

  • It could happen… Freddie Freeman is very persuasive, as we’re aware.  That’s why Brian Snitker is still the team manager.
  • It could happen… the Braves have the money to spend.
  • It could happen… Harper brings the big bat that this lineup definitely needs.
  • It could happen… we have this hole in Right Field, it seems

Make no mistake:  the ‘big bat’ guy does make a difference.  The Braves tried to acquire Manny Machado at pennies on the dollar at the trade deadline.  I could perhaps make a case that had the Dodgers not had him on their roster, the fates of the Braves and Dodgers could have been reversed right now – so much more so if the Braves were the acquiring team.

Atlanta has often gone down such a road before:  Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga, … others.  Such players tend to ‘finish’ a lineup and gives opposing pitchers trouble a lot more often.  Harper would definitely fill such a role, and under the right circumstances, I’ve love to have him on the roster.

At the same time, I also don’t believe he’s the best fit over the long term for Atlanta.  Here’s a list of reasons:

  • The Washington clubhouse was said to have been ‘dysfunctional’.  Part of that has to have been because Harper’s intensity meter is typically pegged at the top… all the time.  That can be rough to deal with, and while I’d certainly think that Freeman could ramp him down a couple of notches, you’d have to wonder about how this would play with the happy-go-lucky shenanigans from players like Acuna and Albies.

  • I have some concerns about the long-term health of Harper.  He will turn 26 next week and in 7 major league seasons, he’s managed 150+ games twice (others: 139,118, 100, 147, 111).
  • I have some concerns about paying 8 WAR rates for an up-and-down performer.  Harper’s total fWAR over those 7 years is 30.7.  So is he ‘9 WAR guy’ (that was MVP year 2015) or ‘4.4 WAR guy’ (his average per year)?  I like 4.4… but I don’t love it at $25+ million annually.
  • Additionally – and this comes from the opinion of former Mets’ GM Steve Phillips – the sheer ‘violence’ of his swing is how he generates his power.  That works for him – sometimes – but as he gets older, that violence is going to continue to be harder to sustain without injury.  Do you want to be on the hook for a 10 year deal for somebody already averaging 30 games a year on the DL?
  • Alex Anthopoulos tends to shy away from the free agent market and he’s never gone this big before.  Of note: the Braves have a few players already on the roster that should get some looks at contract extensions, and Anthopoulous does tend to spend money in this way.
  • Finally, there may be ways to go with a lot less risk and financial exposure.  AJ Pollock is just one option (but he’s almost 31 an has a injury history, too).  If healthy, he’s a 4 WAR guy, too… and would be a lot cheaper.

Overall… I’m on the fence.  Guys with Harper’s skillset are hard to find.  They are also hard to pay.

Next: More looking ahead to 2019

But we’ll have plenty of time to debate the merits of the the right field position and about who should fill it in 2019… after all, Nick Markakis’ locker is still warm.

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