Cardinals’ offseason target: Bryce Harper
As the 2018 Winter Meetings approach, the BND will take a look at the pros and cons of either signing or trading for the players they’ve been connected to through rumors this offseason.
Bryce Harper is a free agent, perhaps the most coveted free agent of all time. And a number of rumors have name St. Louis as one of the teams chasing after him.
Outside of the news about Nelly, Harper turning down a contract with the Washington Nationals, and his agent Scott Boras’ plans to get his client $400 million, there’s been little concrete about the slugger since the 2018 season ended.
So as baseball fans in St. Louis and other markets wait for any news at all about Harper, here’s a look at the pros and cons if the former MVP is wearing a Cardinals uniform in 2019.
Why St. Louis should sign Bryce Harper
As discussed in the previous Paul Goldschmidt piece, the Cardinals have struggled to both hit homers and score runs since Albert Pujols signed with the Angels following the 2011 season. Just three Cardinals have topped 30 homers since — Carlos Beltran in 2012, Jedd Gyorko in 2016, and Matt Carpenter in 2018.
Harper’s bat would also provide much needed protection for the other big bats in the St. Louis lineup, especially Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna benefited from hitting in the same lineup as Giancarlo Stanton while in Miami, and would likely experience similar success teaming up with Harper in the Cardinals offense.
Being just 26 years old is another plus for Harper, which would put him in the same age range as other key pieces of the Cardinals future. Harper has been durable during his seven-year career with just two DL stints and has played at least 147 games in three of the past four seasons.
And as a left-handed hitter, Harper would provide balance to a lineup that features just two lefties. That, plus the fact that lefties hit better at Busch Stadium than righties, is a huge positive that few other free agents or trade targets offer St. Louis this offseason.
But perhaps the biggest positive of adding Bryce Harper would be for St. Louis to show baseball and its fans that the Cardinals are a destination team. After finishing second for David Price and missing out on Jason Heyward following the 2015 season, and failing to get Giancarlo Stanton to waive his no trade clause in 2017, the Cardinals have struggled with the perception that big-time players aren’t interested in coming to St. Louis.
Landing the top-ranked free agent in 2018 would certainly go a long way toward changing that perception and putting the Cardinal Way back in the forefront.
Why St. Louis should not sign Bryce Harper
Harper would require St. Louis to make a long commitment — at least 10 years, and some projections have the free agent signing a deal for 14 years. While the Cardinals could possibly offer Harper a contract that includes an opt out after five years, the team would still be on the hook for quite a bit of cash over the next few seasons.
Additionally, the team would have to forfeit its second-highest pick in the 2019 draft and lose $500,000 from its international spending pool. While neither of those penalties are enough to forgo signing Harper, it’s just another reminder that landing the slugging free agent won’t be cheap.
But regardless of the cost, Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III says the team has the money to sign Harper.
The more concerning issue about Harper is his lack of consistency. While Harper has put up solid numbers each year of his career, he’s fluctuated between solid seasons and great seasons: In his first two seasons he was worth a combined 8.9 bWAR. In 2014 he was worth just 1.1 bWAR. He was worth 10 bWAR in his 2015 MVP season, but followed it up in 2016 by being worth just 1.5 bWAR. In 2017 he was wort 4.7 bWAR but in 2018 managed just 1.3 bWAR. Most of the dips in his bWAR can be attributed to defensive issues: Harper has posted negative dWAR four times in his career (2013, 2014, 2016, and 2018) and posted 0.0 dWAR in 2017. His worst year by dWAR was 2018 when he posted a -3.2.
The Cardinals currently have a projected outfield of Marcell Ozuna in left, Harrison Bader in center, and Tyler O’Neill in right. Signing Harper would force O’Neill to the bench and put a league average defensive outfielder in his place. The Cardinals had minimal luck trying a similar situation with Jose Martinez in both 2017 and 2018, though Harper’s offensive numbers are significantly better.
Bryce Harper would be a huge boost to the Cardinals, a franchise still searching for an identity after missing the postseason three years in a row. That alone could justify the huge cost of signing Harper. But the Cardinals would have to beware that, at least on defense, Harper is a fairly average player who would put additional pressure on center fielder Harrison Bader as he tries to gain a solid footing as an every day player. But if the Cardinals want to “win the offseason” and contend in the NL Central in 2019, adding Harper is a must unless St. Louis is content to focus on trading for a superstar or attempting to sign Manny Machado, the other top free agent available.
Do you think the Cardinals would be better with Bryce Harper, or should they focus their attention elsewhere? You can comment on the 618 Sports Facebook page and share your thoughts with other fans of the St. Louis baseball team.