Signing Bryce Harper would surely generate national interest, boost ticket sales, and inch the San Francisco Giants back toward relevancy. But does this rumor have any legs?
Free agent Bryce Harper, the seven-season Washington Nationals outfielder, 2015 National League MVP, and 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, has been the topic of many rumors among baseball fans and pundits in recent days. The latest, according to San Jose-born 90s band Smash Mouth, is that Giants ownership wants to offer Harper a long-term contract, but newly installed operations guy Farhan Zaidi is against it.
This rumor needs to be tempered with a report today that the Phillies have already made Harper an offer worth $300 million, and a subsequent rumor on MLB.com that Harper met with the Dodgers over the weekend and is leaning more toward LA because it's closer to his home in Las Vegas.
NBC Sports reported two weeks ago that Harper did meet with a Giants delegation that included Buster Posey, who has become "part of the recruiting process for big-time free agents."
The 26-year-old, power-hitting, genuinely electrifying outfielder brings a trove of accolades with him that most players only dream of accumulating throughout a full career. Posey would be the only Giants player who can boast a better personal resume, due in large part to being absolutely instrumental in the team’s magical three World Series wins in a five year span (2010-’14).
All of the pomp and circumstance aside, what many Giants fans ought to be concerned about are the tangible numbers the young phenom could bring with him to the City by the Bay.
First thing’s first: Harper would instantly improve the Giants’ woefully lacking outfield. Plugging him in at right field provides the athletic body and strong arm necessary for effectively patrolling “triples alley.” Assuming manager Bruce Bochy gives up-and-coming Steven Duggar a shot to lock down center field, that would leave the power-hitting lefty, Chris Shaw, and the contact-hitting righty, Austin Slater, to platoon in left. In this scenario, Harper provides something more than his glove or his stick can attest to; he is able to relieve some of the pressure by which the young outfielders may have been undone.
Defensively, Harper most likely won’t be winning a gold glove any time soon. Nevertheless, he is solid. Among current MLB right-fielders with 500-plus games played, the Las Vegas product ranks seventh in overall fielding percentage (baseball-reference.com). He also ranks 21st in career assists by a right fielder, though, only four of the players he’s chasing have played fewer seasons than Bryce. Wrapping up this aspect of the game, no. 34 will bring experience and tenacity to the outfield, the likes of which have been missing for quite some time.
Which brings us to the area in which adding Bryce Harper is a bona fide game-changer: Bochy’s lineup. Harper hit in the no. 3 spot for 403 of his 695 plate appearances for the Nationals in 2018. If Duggar leads off, Panik and Belt are interchangeable at two and seven, Harper can occupy the three-hole, with protection provided by Buster Posey. Pencil in Longo at five, B-Craw sixth, Panik/Belt seventh, Shaw/Slater eighth, and wrapping up with the pitcher’s spot. If each of these guys can manage to stay healthy for an entire season, just imagine what this lineup can accomplish with a serious power threat residing in the three-hole. Even during what many in the sports media considered to be a “down year” for Harper, last season, he managed to crush 34 bombs and drive in a cool 100 RBIs. Just to add a little context, the Giants 2018 season home run leader (Evan Longoria) finished with 16, while the top RBI guy (Andrew McCutchen) led the team with 55.
In fact, San Francisco’s 2018 total outfield production consisted of 44 home runs and 201 runs batted in, through a total of 2,179 combined plate appearances. Adjusted to Harper’s total plate appearances, the Giants’ generic single outfielder would have produced roughly 14 home runs and 64 RBIs, given the same number of plate appearances as Harper. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the massive upgrade a Bryce Harper “down year” would be over the paltry production the G Men got from their outfield corps during the 2018 season.
The bottom line is that Bryce Harper would improve the Giants in just about every measurable and immeasurable way there is. Moreover, San Francisco would also benefit from not having to trade valuable future assets to bring him into the fold, as they would have were they to have won the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes of last offseason.
It still remains to be seen whether the Giants are the right fit in Harper’s eyes. With serious suitors, in the Phillies and Dodgers, nothing can be assumed.
But, of course, there's also the small fact that adding Bryce Harper will shift substantial power into the hands of those who are willing to cough up a 10-year/$300M+ deal.
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