When Bryce Harper hit free agency after the 2018 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers were involved in the bidding. But not that involved. They wanted it their way, reportedly offering the former Rookie of the Year and MVP a shorter-term deal with a higher AAV and multiple opt outs.
But Harper wanted security. He wanted a long-term deal. He wanted certainty. He wanted his next home to be his last. So when the Phillies came in with a 13-year, $330 million offer, that settled it.
Following 2018, the Dodgers were coming off a World Series loss the Boston Red Sox. The Phillies finished 80-82 under Gabe Kapler, his first year as manager. That marked six straight seasons under .500 for Philly. Harper still rejected the proven winner in LA because he very much deserved to call the shots on the terms he wanted.
Maybe this changes the trajectory of the 2019 NLDS against the Washington Nationals. Maybe it gets the Dodgers over the hump in 2021 and 2022. But does it matter? Are we to dive down a rabbit hole of “what ifs” when comparing two of the best players of their generation?
Mookie Betts might be a superior defender, but he seems to lack that “edge” when it comes to clutch situations, something that time and time again cannot be quantified or identified outside of the eye test. That’s where Harper possesses an edge. Then this simply becomes an argument of “what would you rather have”?
Did Dodgers make a mistake not signing Bryce Harper over Mookie Betts?
Woah! Wait a second! Why is this even a topic of discussion? Nobody even thought about mentioning this from 2019 until a few days ago!
Well, this is how the baseball discourse goes. You know that. And when you realize the Dodgers went ahead and signed AJ Pollock that same offseason Harper was available for the taking, it can be viewed as an even bigger miss.
Look, the Dodgers do not win the 2020 World Series without Mookie Betts. That much is true. But Harper is the lefty bat LA has been missing these last few years with Cody Bellinger’s and Max Muncy’s regressions. Meanwhile, Betts hasn’t exactly been his MVP-self these last couple seasons.
But this isn’t even a “problem,” nor should it be a salient discussion. Betts already has two World Series, one with the Red Sox and one with the Dodgers. Harper just went to his first championship series.
What fans are forgetting here is that the Dodgers likely offered Harper what they did because nobody foresaw Bellinger falling off a cliff from 2020-2022 or Muncy injuring his elbow to kill the Dodgers’ 2021 playoff run and then affect their endeavors in 2022. LA was more than likely preparing to pay Bellinger (and even Corey Seager) long-term well before Harper was even a legitimate consideration of theirs. And there was no way they were going to fit Harper into that picture.
Then, in 2020, the Dodgers saw an opportunity fall into their lap when the Red Sox were offloading one of the best talents in the game. How could you turn that down? After LA fell short in 2019 when losing to the Washington Nationals in the NLDS, the front office likely knew they had to make a move of great magnitude. It just so happened to be Betts. The sense of urgency with Harper was essentially non-existent, since the Dodgers had just gone to back-to-back World Series.
Little did they know, Seager would command $325 million in free agency a few years later and Bellinger would become a replacement-level player. That was supposed to be the Dodgers’ nucleus for years to come. That’s why they weren’t jumping at the opportunity to give Harper a 13-year deal.
And when it comes to comparing Harper vs Betts, it’s a waste of time. You love watching both of them, right? The biggest mistake here is the Dodgers not acquiring both. Now that would’ve been something.