Since the moment last season when the Dodgers appeared they would stay under the 2018 Luxury Tax threshold, rumors began to swirl linking the team to Bryce Harper, one of the headlining commodities of this winter’s free agent class. And, as impractical as it would be to sign the 26-year-old, indications suggest that the club is still doing its due diligence in pursuing the outfielder, despite the onslaught of criticism from pundits and fans.
According to multiple reports, Magic Johnson has done his part in the courting process, having recently paid Harper a visit in his hometown of Las Vegas. Johnson (who later denied visiting Harper) has had a stake in the Dodgers’ ownership group since 2012, when he bought into the Guggenheim group’s investment with $50 million of his own money. Johnson’s recruiting efforts last summer of LeBron James paid dividends when the superstar ultimately decided to sign with the Lakers.
It may be worth mentioning, though, that Harper turned down an extension offered by the Nationals before the 2018 season came to an end. The exact numbers of the proposition were not revealed, but reports showed the deal to be worth somewhere in the 10-year/$300 million range, which is definitely atypical of a contract favored by boss Andrew Friedman. Several media outlets believe that Los Angeles will aim to stay under the threshold for its 2019 campaign, so a $30+ million paycheck to Harper would seemingly be unrealistic, being that staff ace Clayton Kershaw is already on the books for an even $31 million next season.
Some pundits actually believe that Harper could command a pact in the range of $400 million.
As far as number go, like clockwork, Harper’s offensive output has teeter-tottered over the past four seasons. After a monumental 1.109 OPS and an MVP award back in 2015, he posted a .814 OPS and a paltry .243 batting average in 2016. Consequently, he rebounded and impressed with a four-digit OPS of 1.008 in 2017, but fell back down to earth a bit last season with an OPS of .889, despite leading the majors with 130 walks.
Many followers of the Dodgers have compared Harper’s 2018 offensive campaign to the numbers put up by Max Muncy last year. Muncy led the Dodgers with an astronomical .973 OPS, suggesting that Harper may not be as much of a significant upgrade as many perceive.
Furthermore, while Harper has always ranked well-above average in defensive metrics and range factors, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs put together a story several weeks back showing some not-so-impressive numbers from last season. Harper played a lot more center field in 2018, however, which could have played a part in his regression in 2018.
While it’s certainly impossible to know Friedman’s intentions of filling out the roster over the winter, I still feel like a genuine interest in Harper is unlikely, based on his prospective salary and Friedman’s personal philosophies. Yet, if the Dodgers found a way to bring the superstar on board, an overhaul of the existing outfield crew would almost be mandatory.
In the end, maybe Magic decided to get the ball rolling on his own—just in case Friedman has a change of heart.