The free agent pursuit of Bryce Harper is different from most in baseball in several key ways. At 26, Harper is younger than most star free agents, mostly because he got an early start to his career. It’s playing out in February, while most major free agent discussions have usually taken place in November or December.
But another key difference in the Harper sweepstakes is that the usual teams for free agent bidding wars aren’t involved. The teams most often mentioned as Harper suitors are the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, and San Diego Padres. Not mentioned are the teams that normally bid on major free agents, most notably the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs.
Why is this? There are a few reasons.
First of all, most teams in baseball are reluctant to pay baseball’s luxury tax, which penalizes teams if they spent over a certain threshold in free agency. And several of the teams in large markets are at or near that threshold, and therefore less likely to add an expensive new player like Harper.
Certain teams also have additional reasons.
A story by SNY last October stated that the Yankees weren’t likely to pursue Harper, in part because they’re all set in the outfield. The team has Giancarlo Stanton signed for many more years, they just signed Aaron Hicks to a seven-year deal, and also have superstar Aaron Judge at an outfield position.
The Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series last fall, are the only team in the game that was over the luxury tax threshold last year. Boston is also loaded in the outfield and has never been seriously mentioned as a Harper suitor.
The New York Mets spent a lot of money this offseason, but they also were never mentioned as a potential fit for Harper. A CBS New York story last month quoted new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen as saying that “anything is possible, but we have to be realistic about the way the team is built right now” when it comes to Harper.
It appears the Yankees agreed with this assessment https://t.co/vkceIsRjKc
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) February 25, 2019
The Chicago Cubs were rumored as Harper suitor in recent years, but the team didn’t seem to make any push for the free agent in the offseason. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said last month that Harper, who is his close friend, would not be signing with the Cubs.
“It’s really weird,” Bryant told Sports Illustrated. “Two of the best players in the game, and they have very little interest in them, from just what I hear. It’s not good. It’s something that will have to change. I know a lot of the other players are pretty upset about it.”
The latest on Harper, as of Monday morning, is that the Philadelphia Phillies remain the favorite for the player, although the Los Angeles Dodgers have emerged as a possible last-minute bidder. Reports, however, suggest that Los Angeles will be offering a shorter-term deal.