When Manny Machado didn’t work out for the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2018 trade deadline, the team let him hit free agency and attempted to upgrade in the form of the next best player: Bryce Harper.
They just weren’t willing to commit to the slugger on a long-term basis and that changed the entire trajectory of Major League Baseball.
Harper ended up signing a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies after reportedly rejecting the Dodgers’ four year, $180 million offer. That would’ve been a $45 million average annual value. It would’ve been a record then, and it would’ve been a record now.
On the surface, fans don’t know how this would’ve affected the Mookie Betts trade in 2020. The Dodgers pounced on that after the Boston Red Sox unexpectedly decided to tear down their operation. At the very least, though, the Trevor Bauer contract likely never would’ve happened. The Dodgers were able to fit that onto their payroll because Betts’ 12-year deal was backloaded.
As for the playoff impact … do the Dodgers beat the Nationals in 2019? Do they need to trade for Trea Turner in 2021 (and does that allow them to keep Corey Seager)? Do they beat the Braves in that NLCS? Do they fall short in 2022 against the Padres? We’ll never know.
Revisiting the Dodgers’ massive contract offer to Bryce Harper
Additionally, as we detailed in our Harper vs Betts debate piece, the Dodgers were perhaps under the impression they needed to earmark big bucks for Cody Bellinger, who’s now more than likely on his way out of LA with a projected arbitration salary of $18 million in 2022. The Dodgers aren’t going to pay that when he’s been good for a 1.2 WAR since the start of 2020.
If Harper desired long-term security, though, why didn’t the Dodgers feel a $25.38 million AAV over 13 years was a good idea? You’re bound to get elite production for about 8-9 years of that deal before the diminishing returns begin to take hold. Perhaps they were taking into account his defense, and were instead willing to pay someone like Betts who’s elite (and versatile) on that front.
Nonetheless, the Dodgers gave Harper a premier opportunity to hit free agency again after his age-29 season. Alongside a stacked lineup, Harper earning $45 million a year from 2019-2022 would’ve then parlayed into another (at least) seven-year deal. Look at Aaron Judge this offseason. He’s entering his age-31 season coming off an MVP campaign and could get close to 10 years.
Harper wasn’t in a situation to take a short-term deal, though. He had the luxury of waiting it out and doing things his way. Coming off an All-Star season where he led the league in walks, belted 34 homers, drove in 100 runs and maintained an .889 and 133 OPS+, there was no need. He was heading into his age-26 season. Short-term contracts are only beneficial for older players and put younger players at a risk of hitting free agency after an unlucky down year.
If the Dodgers really wanted Harper, nobody would’ve opposed them leaning into his requests. That’s especially easy to say after he won NL MVP last year and is in the World Series this year, but that’s what happens when a certain situation ages well, doesn’t it?