Saturday, October 6, 2018

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Bryce Harper

I've been battling a bit of writer's block since the end of the season.  Since we have a break between the end of the season and the beginning of the "offseason" with the Giants shut out of the postseason, I thought I would post some thoughts on some of the free agents who will be available this offseason. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are the cream of this year's crop and are both as good as you are ever going to find on the free agent market....ever!  The similarities are striking: They are both 26 years old, about as young as you are going to get for a free agent and both have put up just over 30 fWAR so far in their career.  There are differences too as one is an OF, the other an IF.  One hit LH, the other RH. We'll start with Bryce Harper:

Bryce Harper's free agency has been long anticipated and widely expected to set records for payout.  He's still young enough for GM's to believe his best years are still ahead of him and he has enough talent to carry a team for a full season as his 9.3 fWAR from 2015 testifies.  On the other hand, he has been slowed by nagging injuries and inexplicable slumps with 4.8 being the second highest fWAR of his MLB career.  Let's break it down a bit further:

Hitting;  He's averaged 32 HR's over his last 4 seasons.  His career slash line is .279/.388/.512.  while his overall BA was down in 2018, he rebounded with a .300 in the second half after a near-disastrous .214 in the first half.  Going forward, he should remain a top power hitter for 8-10 years.  One word of caution:  On top of AT&T Park's general hostility to HR's and LH batters in general, a look at Bryce Harper's Spray Chart shows a large cluster around R-CF, which also happens to be Triples Alley in AT&T AKA Death Valley for HR's.

Baserunning:  Harper's SB's rebounded to 13 in 2018, but SB's do not figure to be a significant part of his game going forward.

Fielding:  Harper's UZR/150 slumped to -16.7 in 2018.  It is unclear if this was due to an injury of some sort or just the normal SSS variation of UZR or if this represents an inflection point in his career.  If it is the latter, you would worry about his ability to cover RF in AT&T Park.

Intangibles:  Harper has clashed with both teammates and opponents at times, but he plays the game with passion and intensity and there is no evidence that he is considered a bad teammate or a disruptive force in the clubhouse.  He has expressed admiration for the Giants organization and for the city of San Francisco in the past.  I don't think he would be scared off by the park, although the park's configuration is essentially 180 degrees opposite of what would enhance his value.  In fact, he might regard it as a challenge!  A bigger factor may be that after a lot of near-misses in Washington, he may not want to try to pick up an aging core in San Francisco then be the elder statesman after the current core moves on. In other words, he will likely choose a situation where he is more likely to get a ring.

Price:  Harper has a good chance to become the highest paid free agent in baseball history.  Recent speculation has put his asking price above $500 M.  Once upon a time, the Giants signed Barry Bonds to the largest FA contract in baseball history.  That worked out well for them.  Recent mega-deals for A-Rod, Albert Pujols and Giancarlo Stanton have not worked out so well for the signing teams.  While I absolutely love Bryce Harper as a player, there are already hints that his career may have peaked.  A contract the size he will almost certainly receive is likely to end up with a maldistribution of the signing team's financial resources, although the Giants indicated a willingness to take on just such a contract when they made a serious attempt to trade for Giancarlo Stanton last winter. Given their serious and seemingly intractable needs in the OF, I expect the Giants to do more than just kick the tires on Bryce Harper.


  1. Yeah, I thought the Giants were going to go all in on Harper until the Evans dismissal. I thought that Harper would be Baer's Bonds gambit of getting the brash young star who they will lavish big money on, and with today's contract trends, probably a 2-3 year player option so that Harper could go out and get even more, if he wanted, like Cueto's. So it's more like a 2-3 year rental, which would work for the Giants, then they let him go to another team.

    But, as we saw with Cueto, sometimes that bites you in the rear. Maybe we give the player multiple options to give him a chance to recover from a bad year and leave afterward, say player options at 3, 4, 5 years.

    But with the pitching the Giants have shown in the four months of the season, and hopefully Samardzija showing something healthy in 2019, plus re-signing Holland, on paper, I think the Giants can be competitive enough to get into the playoffs if they can get a Harper while their 30's YO players - Posey, Crawford, Belt - hit like they have in the past, plus Duggar takes care of the leadoff problem, which was a huge issue which caused the Giants to struggle offensively in 2019. But that's a lot of ifs, I get that, for 2019.

    But I think that 2020 could be pretty good, continuing the upswing of 2019, if the Giants can get the offense going with a Harper, as I think Bart will be ready enough to start in 2020, shifting Posey to 1B, and Belt to LF, where he should still be better than what we have had in LF for a while now. And the pitching would be fortified with a healthy Cueto, who really pitches well in spite of his velocity.

    Still, I think you pointed out the major reason Harper will not come here: he not only wants but probably feels the need to win by the time he's 30's. And that's no guarantee with the Giants, as much potential as I see in the team in the coming years. But if it's money he wants, the Giants are probably not going to be outbid.

    But with the Evans dismissal, I have no idea what they are thinking of doing. And they don't seem to be in any hurry to hire anyone to be GM, which would be important for deciding important things like whether they are trading Bumgarner (as many seem to want, but I don't) and signing Harper or Machado (I can see the Giants wanting to sign him to play 3B, pushing Longoria to 1B, Belt to LF or maybe Belt traded, which I don't want either; but like Harper, does he want to join a struggling team?).

    Of course, maybe they are not in a hurry because they are waiting for someone who is currently working for a playoff team. I've been curious about getting Farhan from the Dodgers to lead everything, given that LA has been so good in recent years of finding nothing players who suddenly is hitting well for them. I've also admired the Indians for finding players over the years as well. That Brewers guy looks pretty interesting as well, given his background in scouting and analytics (if I'm recalling the right guy).

    1. You still haven't given up on moving Belt to LF? I can't even imagine how bad Belt would be in LF by 2020!

  2. Is Harper Bonds?
    Bonds got better after his signing at the end of 1992, and did it before he did (or didn't) use PEDs.
    Lightning could strike twice, in a good way, unlike the the last 5 years when nothing worked.
    Encourage Harper to think he's Bonds and work with him to take advantage of AT&T by pulling the ball down the line rather than powering to right CF as he does now.
    SF had a winning percentage at home this year and even in 2015's debacle, they were better at home (.469 v .321). In 2015's bad year they were .580 at hoe.
    The Giants need to take advantage of their home field advantage by improving the OF defense on par with their IF. Harper with younger legs should be an improvement over Cutch, Duggar for more games than 2017 will be an improvement, and hopefully one of the youts will pan out in LF.
    Longoria could be better his second year in the NL. With better health for Panik, Belt, Bumgarner, and Samardzija, the Giants could improve on their September 1st .500 record and contend.
    A lot of IF's, but a "bold" move on Harper, a little luck on injuries and accidents, and the 30+ vets putting together good years, the present gloom and doom could dissipate in sunshine.

    1. Had Harper played for SF this year he would have led the team in
      AB, R, H, 2B, HR, RBI, SB(Tie), W, SO, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB, SF, IBB, oWAR, & oRAR.(Stats from Baseball Reference)
      He had a 56 game stretch in August and September where he slashed .314/.443/.564/1.006.
      Bill James created much controversy by stating Bryce Harper is not a superstar... it's one thing to have superstar "talent"...but you also have to stay injury free, hustle 100% of the time...and play solid defense.
      Although his fielding has never been good, he did play 63 games in CF this year which must have spotlighted his deficiency.

    2. No, Harper is not Bonds. I hope I didn't give anyone the impression I think he is.

  3. Harper has never had a plus defensive season, as measured by defensive fWAR, no matter what the age of his legs. This past year, as DrB notes, he was especially awful. On a long-term contract, mightn’t one expect “especially awful” to come ever closer to being the norm for him?

    As to ogc’s suggestion of getting Machado to play third, I recall Machado’s being unwilling to do that prior to his trade to LA—why would he consent to do it for us?

  4. Harper

    Year bWAR

    2016 1.5
    2017 4.7
    2018 1.3

    (This year, he tied for 9th on the Nationals. 9th.)


    Year bWAR

    1990 9.7
    1991 8.0
    1992 9.0

    Are you kidding? How is this even a conversation?

    1. This was a conversation because DrB proposed it (see title above).
      Since Harper is not Bonds, offensively, defensively, or potentially, campanari and Mojo have closed the conversation.
      In Haper's defense, he did have an Bondsian 2015, a 1.008 OPS 2017, and managed 34 HRs and 100 RBIs in a declining National 2018.

    2. What did I propose? The only equivalency I was trying to make between Bonds and Harper was that they both might be members of the "Biggest FA Signing In History" club. I think my point was that while the Bonds contract worked out well for the Giants, I do not see Harper 1. Dominating AT&T Park the way Bonds did and 2. Probably not aging was well as Bonds did.

    3. Doc, sorry to imply that you supported signing Harper.

      I think Anon telling me to quiet down, that you were simply noting that Harper will come under consideration in the Giant's War Room this off season (and the reasons why he might seem attractive.)

      But still, wow, Harper (and the Giants) have so many question marks that there is no way to justify the minimum 8-10 years and @ $250-300 million.

  5. I poorly phrased my point. I didn't mean that anyone had said that Harper was Bonds, but to ask if he could have a Bonds-like impact on the Giants?
    If Harper doesn't have that projection for SF, then he shouldn't be considered, by the Giants, for the largest ever next contract.
    If a believable way could be found that he did, then the Giants could be players.
    Sorry if I implied anything else or was rude to Mojo, one of the best bloggers ever!

    1. Hey Anon, No worries!

      I love this forum and our impassioned exchange of ideas.

      I find the posters here the most considerate anywhere. (With Doc’s slight moderation, of course)