If you want to get technical about it, Manny Machado is probably a better free agent than Bryce Harper. The former plays a key infield position; the latter struggled as an outfielder this year. They’re both the same age, but Machado has actually been worth more WAR over his career. Harper is likelier to run through a wall, Natural-style, while Machado loves to treat each of his hamstrings like a precious Stradivarius. And, perhaps most importantly, while both will make your dad angry, Machado will make him angrier. Just look at those neck veins go!
And yet I’m not as interested about where Machado will go. This almost certainly has to do with the hype residue that Harper is still dusted with — when a kid makes the cover of Sports Illustrated before he gets his driver’s license, he develops something of a must-see reputation, and I’m an easy mark. I wrote hundreds of words about his major-league debut, and I’m not sure if I’ve done that for a rookie since. He was so special, so unique!
No, I’m all about Harper, Harper, Harper as a free agent. Get that dWAR out of your mouth! You don’t know where that’s been!
1. (tie) Arizona Diamondbacks
1. (tie) Atlanta Braves
1. (tie) Baltimore Orioles
1. (tie) Boston Red Sox
1. (tie) Chicago Cubs
1. (tie) Chicago White Sox
1. (tie) Cincinnati Reds
1. (tie) Cleveland Indians
1. (tie) Colorado Rockies
1. (tie) Detroit Tigers
1. (tie) Houston Astros
1. (tie) Kansas City Royals
1. (tie) Los Angeles Angels
1. (tie) Los Angeles Dodgers
1. (tie) Miami Marlins
1. (tie) Milwaukee Brewers
1. (tie) Minnesota Twins
1. (tie) New York Mets
1. (tie) New York Yankees
1. (tie) Oakland A’s
1. (tie) Philadelphia Phillies
1. (tie) Pittsburgh Pirates
1. (tie) San Diego Padres
1. (tie) San Francisco Giants
1. (tie) Seattle Mariners
1. (tie) St. Louis Cardinals
1. (tie) Tampa Bay Rays
1. (tie) Texas Rangers
1. (tie) Toronto Blue Jays
1. (tie) Washington Nationals
Here’s a list of players with as many homers as Harper and an OBP over .380 again. Even if he turns into Ralph Kiner and is out of baseball because of an injury by the time he’s 33, or if his defense really does age like Adam Dunn’s, you’ll still get several exciting years. But the list is overwhelmingly populated with players who played at a Hall of Fame level, if not actual Hall of Famers.
Statistically, Harper’s record of production at such a young age makes him a lot closer to Frank Robinson than Nick Markakis, so maybe use money to take a chance on a potential Hall of Famer still in his prime?
Harper has four full years before he turns 30.
Please keep my official policy of “Shut up and spend your money, rich people” in mind when considering this list.
30. Miami Marlins
Listen, I’m big on sending Harper to the teams that need to prove something to their fans, as you’ll read. There’s nothing that sends a message of, “Oh, heck yeah, we’re trying to win your attention!” like signing one of the most sought-after free agents of all time, and irrelevant/struggling/rebuilding teams should definitely do it.
Just not the Marlins. It would be incredibly gauche for them to trade away one of history’s greatest young outfields — not hyperbole! — just to pay a single young outfielder an incredible amount of money. It would just be wrong.
29. Boston Red Sox
Look, every team is better with Harper, even the Red Sox. Betts to center, Bradley traded for relief, and Harper in right is good for another win, at least. But is that too creative by half? Would that be outthinking themselves?
Probably. Plus, they just spent nine-figure money on a DH last year. They have a get-out-of-this-premium-free-agent-scrum-free card.
28. Arizona Diamondbacks
Four out of five Arizona residents agree: Just let us keep Paul Goldschmidt, dammit.
27. San Francisco Giants
They were hot after Giancarlo Stanton last year because they wanted one of the five recognizable players in baseball. Here’s another one.
Except AT&T Park is murder on lefties. That isn’t to say he would be bad there, but if you’re paying close to a half-billion for a player, at the very least you would want his strengths to not be neutralized. Right-handed bats or pitchers until the next Barry Bonds is available, please.
26. Baltimore Orioles
Oh, they should definitely sign him. This is about the spot on the list where signing Harper becomes a good idea for everyone.
But the Orioles are here because I don’t want them to screw Harper up. You can move them all the way up to No. 1 if you have a different outlook.
25. Seattle Mariners
Free agents are a cheap high. Jerry Dipoto will indulge, but he always feels dirty afterward. This is why the Mariners are 25th on this list, but they’re first on the “Ranking the teams that should trade for Bryce Harper” list that will be published in July.
24. St. Louis Cardinals
Yes, the Cardinals should absolutely sign Harper, but so should everyone else. The argument against the Cardinals specifically has to do with them being able to create outfielders using a 3D printer. What’s a Stephen Piscotty? Well, guess what, he’s excellent now. José Martinez the pitcher? No, the corner guy who is going to decide that he’s awesome now that he’s on the Cardinals and in his late 20s. Tommy Pham, Harrison Bader, Randal Grichuk, Allen Craig … dammit, calm down, Cardinals.
They should still sign Harper, but they at least have an argument against spending that much money on something they find in pants pockets while doing laundry.
23. Los Angeles Dodgers
Sort of a similar argument to the Cardinals, in that they are getting better and better at finding seedlings to water instead of paying to uproot a mighty oak.
Mostly, though, I’d rather not see Harper go to a team that’s won two straight pennants. Give me something new, something fresh, dang it.
22. Detroit Tigers
They already got to enjoy the prime of Miguel Cabrera. Don’t get grabby, Tigers.
21. Texas Rangers
Dunno, I kind of like this idea, but only if they stick around Globe Life Park, where I know Harper would put up some sweet numbers. Who knows what the new park will be like for left-handers? And what about the park that opens after that?
Still, this is the spot on the list where I could strongly advocate for anyone. If you want to convince me that the Rangers should be in the top spot, please do. I’m very malleable on this.
20. Cincinnati Reds
The rumors about the Reds trading their best prospects for Corey Kluber are fascinating. I can’t tell if it’s the dumbest possible idea or an emphatic stroke of Byzantine whimsy.
They should probably just sign Harper instead.
19. Toronto Blue Jays
Two years ago, they might have been at the top of the list. Tulo! Joey Bats! Donaldson! Edwin! And now Harper to balance out the right-handedness! What a freaking lineup.
As is, it would be Harper in the middle of a lineup that is very much not that. While it would make sense to invest in a young slugger, just because, it’s not like this is the sexiest destination for a premium free agent.
Also, boy, baseball can sure change in a couple of years.
18. Minnesota Twins
Use that newfound Mauer money for something good, you goobers. And maybe Harper’s left-handed power can lead to another one of these moments:
17. Kansas City Royals
Because it would be awesome and funny, yes. Because it makes sense for anyone to sign a perennial all-star in his mid-20s, even the bad teams. But also because the aesthetics of Harper hitting behind two or three guys with 50 steals and a sub-.280 OBP would be extremely pleasing to me. Thirty homers, 34 RBI.
Make it happen, please.
16. Chicago Cubs
They have to worry about locking Kris Bryant up, and they’re already paying a right fielder a lot of money for a long time, so it’s not the best fit. But they could also be the No. 1 team because, c’mon, you jerks, just sign Harper.
Imagine being a Cubs fan and not wanting to sign Harper because you’ve convinced yourself that the Ricketts family needs to hang onto that money. Those people exist. Just imagine.
15. Tampa Bay Rays
Would you like to hear the story of another team that struggled to build a ballpark? That would be the San Francisco Giants, who were so convinced that it would never happen that they were going to move to Tampa after the 1992 season. Instead, they signed Barry Bonds and broke ground on a new ballpark, at least partially with his help, four years later.
What I’m saying is that the Rays are going to move to San Francisco if they don’t sign Harper. Open your eyes and look at the symmetry, people.
14. Pittsburgh Pirates
Russell Martin’s two-year, $17 million contract was the most expensive outside free agent signing in Pirates history. This is the 100th time I’ve mentioned this. Congratulations to me. I knew I could do it.
What the Pirates should do, then, is make up for all that lost time and sign one (1) free agent for more than $300 million. It’s only fair.
13. Philadelphia Phillies
Yes, they make a tremendous amount of sense. So do the other teams on this list. Stop yelling at me.
The Phillies are this low, however, because they should probably go after Manny Machado instead. Which they’re doing.
Go get some, Philly.
12. Chicago White Sox
I’m not sure if they’re particularly close, but that’s the point of investing in a guy like Harper. He’ll probably be 28 or 29 when the White Sox start to promote their best prospects, ready to contribute immediately.
Plus, it would tick off Cubs fans, which is probably a worthwhile endeavor.
11. San Diego Padres
Oh, heck yes. The Padres have a history of letting great hitters get away to become all-stars, MVPs, and/or Hall of Famers somewhere else. Heck, you can make a whole team out of them:
C – Sandy Alomar
1B – Fred McGriff
2B – Roberto Alomar
SS – Ozzie Smith
3B – Kevin Mitchell
LF – Gary Sheffield
CF – Kevin McReynolds
RF – Dave Winfield
SP – Corey Kluber
RP – Anthony Rizzo
So how about the Padres flip the script and get an all-star and MVP? Wild concept, but it’s just wild enough to work.
10. Milwaukee Brewers
I’ll just quote myself from earlier in the offseason to save time:
The Brewers should sign Harper and create an outfield bookend of the gods. (…) Is this likely? Oh, heck no. I’m just looking at teams with a lefty-friendly ballpark that could really thrive with a young superstar over the next 10 years, and the Brewers look like a pretty sweet fit.
The last time the Brewers acquired a young left-handed outfielder, he won the MVP and they missed the World Series by a win. Seems like something that could work twice.
9. Washington Nationals
Boring. And unlikely, now that they’ve signed Patrick Corbin for tons of scratch. When I wrote about the fallout from that signing, I overestimated the influence that Ted Lerner still had. It’s all about the next generation now, and those dudes are always worried about losing their inherited money. Probably because they weren’t the ones who earned it in the first place. Cough.
Still, the Nationals should sign Harper. Juan Soto and Harper in the lineup together for the next decade? Yes, please. Build the baseball team that Washington has deserved for a century.
8. Oakland A’s
This would be similar reasoning to the Rays — use a surprising free agent signing to build up excitement for a new ballpark — but it moves up the list because I’m 10 minutes away from the Coliseum and want to see Harper play a lot.
It’s important that you know my biases up front.
The last time the A’s came out of absolutely nowhere to land a premium free agent was with Yoenis Cespedes. It should happen again.
7. Colorado Rockies
If you’re thinking that I need to stop using that joke, I’m afraid that you’re misunderstanding my point, which is that the Colorado Rockies need to sign Harper for science. As in, lemme see those numbers at Coors Field. We need to know exactly how many dingers Harper can get in the thin air.
(Play him at first base if you need to. Break the post-Helton curse.)
6. Houston Astros
Because the universe demands a team that is as good as the 2013 was awful, and you can’t even get mad if this happens.
5. Atlanta Braves
It would a) troll the Nationals and b) be a great way to spend the money they’re going to save on underpaid players like Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Ozzie Albies. They could throw that money down a veteran-player hole and get a fine player for a couple more years, or they could throw a whole mess of money down that hole and get a fine player for a decade.
Considering the Braves’ relative age and their still-productive pipeline, this is the perfect opportunity. And don’t forget the part about the trolling.
4. Cleveland Indians
YOU HAVEN’T WON A WORLD SERIES SINCE 1948. YOU’RE GOOD NOW. ACT WITH SOME URGENCY, YOU WEIRDOS.
Of course, there’s the idea that if the Indians sign Harper, they wouldn’t have money to retain Francisco Lindor, who is probably the better long-term bet. My response to that is to shut up and have both.
(At the very least, don’t trade Kluber. Why do I have to tell you this?)
3. Los Angeles Angels
The Harper or Trout? debate is dead. But we can revive it! Should the Angels keep Harper or Trout? Let’s find out in two years.
Mostly, though, I want to start a Harper and Trout debate. As in, is this the best young player combination in history? Or, uh, at least since Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor? Maybe just limit it to the outfield and see if Trout/Harper/literally anyone could beat out Benintendi/Betts/Bradley, Jr.
It probably could. The Angels are spending big on players like … Trevor Cahill, I guess, but they should also double down on their historically great, freaky young outfielder. It’s the S.R. Hadden logic that I’m using, here, so don’t forget the first rule of rich-team spending: Why have one when you can have two at twice the price?
2. New York Yankees
Because screw you, that’s why.
1. New York Mets
This is a team that needs to rebuild trust. This is a team that’s approached this offseason like an organization that is looking to rebuild trust. This is a franchise in the biggest market in North America, but they usually spend like a team from St. Louis or Seattle because their owners got sucked into a pyramid scheme. The Wilpons aren’t going to spend the kind of money, I know.
They should, though.
It’s time for the Mets to act like a large-market team again. They can do this in a couple of ways, including small, incremental moves that build up over several years until you realize that, golly, they aren’t so thrifty anymore. Or they can strap on a Flying V, crank up those Marshall stacks, play a power chord loud enough to melt the front row, and sign Harper. That’s another way to announce the new era.
This won’t happen, and the actual destination is probably going to be something boring, like Washington. But if there’s a team that should sign Harper, here you go. It makes sense on the field. It makes sense off the field.
Do it, Mets. Do it.