With the Dodgers in Philadelphia to take on the Phillies, it only feels right to look back on the Dodgers’ pursuit of Bryce Harper.
Last offseason as the free agency of Bryce Harper went deep into the winter, the Dodgers tossed their names into the hat. Depending on the rumor, Magic Johnson, Dave Roberts, and Andrew Friedman flew into Las Vegas to pay Bryce Harper a visit.
While the Dodgers were not interested in a long term deal, they were believed to be willing to offer a shorter-term deal with a much higher annual salary. There were even some reports that the offer on the table would’ve shattered the current record for the highest annual salary in MLB history.
Ultimately, Harper chose the Phillies on a thirteen-year deal averaging just under twenty-six million dollars a season. At the time many followers of the Dodgers were angry as many thought the whole purpose of dealing away Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp was to make room in the outfield for the superstar free-agent slugger.
After a slow start to his season, Bryce Harper has improved and entering today’s game has a slash line of .257/.373/.477 and a wRC+ of 116. To Bryce’s credit, those numbers are not bad, but for a blockbuster free-agent signing the Phillies were expecting better numbers than that. Even if he goes on a tear the rest of the season, the Dodgers were still right to pass on Harper.
From the Dodger’s perspective, Bryce Harper’s 116 wRC+, would rank him sixth on the club amongst their starters. Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Alex Verdugo, and Joc Pederson all have a higher wRC+. Corey Seager, even through his own slow start and injuries, has a nearly identical wRC+ of 113, just three points below Harper. Even Chris Taylor is not that far off in terms of wRC+.
Then there is the contract that the Phillies are now stuck with for thirteen years. That would have been different if Bryce did choose LA since the Dodgers’ rumored deal was going to be four years at $45 million a season.
That would’ve cut into the Dodgers’ pockets and made it difficult to hand out a big contract to Corey Seager whose deal expires after the 2021 season. It also would’ve given the Dodgers little wiggle room to add players in the next three to four seasons. Just this coming winter, the Dodgers’ are expected to have over $40 million in added payroll due to arbitration raises.
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Without that contract, the Dodgers now have plenty of financial wiggle room and should have no problem signing members of the core to extensions over the next few offseasons. The Dodgers have also gotten big contributions from outfielders making far less money in Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger, and Alex Verdugo.
At the beginning of the offseason, it looked like the Dodgers were poised to make one of the biggest free-agent additions in franchise history. Instead, the Dodgers opted to sign A.J. Pollock to a much smaller deal. Add that to the breakout of Cody Bellinger and the emergence of Alex Verdugo and in hindsight, it’s a very good thing Andrew Friedman didn’t go for the big fish.
The Phillies are now stuck with thirteen years of Bryce Harper, including most of his down years, and the Dodgers have plenty of upcoming free money to keep players like Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Walker Buehler in Dodger blue for the duration of their careers.
While many thought the Dodgers were being cheap, the club made the right call in passing on Harper and now have a very good financial outlook on the seasons to come. Once the contracts of Kershaw, Jansen, and Turner expire over the next few seasons, the Dodgers will have money to lock up their core and still have room to bring in other free agents.