How the Cubs could pair Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant in 2019
Imagine Bryce Harper smashing balls onto Sheffield Ave. and battling the tough sun in right field in afternoon games at Wrigley Field.
The 24-year-old superstar will hit free agency in a year and a half (after the 2018 season) and the bidding frenzy will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
So will the Cubs be in on that bidding war for Harper?
Longtime baseball writer Peter Gammons is in Chicago this weekend as part of Theo Epstein’s Hot Stove Cool Music festival and Gammons hopped on 670 The Score to discuss the possibility of Harper reuniting with fellow Vegas product Kris Bryant on the North Side.
“I have people tell me that Bryce Harper really would prefer to play for the Cubs,” Gammons said on the Mully and Hanley Show Friday. “Somehow, I don’t think that it’s gonna be affordable to see Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant on the same team.
“It’s a great idea; I’d love to see it, ’cause I respect them both so much personally and professionally. But I don’t think it’s ever gonna happen.”
Gammons has a point. Harper is still more than a year away from free agency and there have already been reports that he and agent Scott Boras are seeking a $400 million deal.
The New York Yankees don’t have many long-term, big-money contracts left, so they’ll be flush with cash for the winter of 2018-19 when maybe the best free agent class ever hits the market. And anytime the Yankees are in the mix, the price will go through the roof.
Keep in mind, too, Harper and his camp have a clear advantage to creating a link with the Cubs given that association alone will drive the price up expontentially.
So how could the Cubs reasonably afford Harper in 2019?
It won’t be easy, that’s for sure.
The Cubs currently have $71.786 million committed in 2019 to Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop’s buy-out.
2019 will be Bryant’s second season in arbitration and don’t expect him to sign a team-friendly deal like Rizzo’s given Boras is also Bryant’s agent and almost always lets his players hit free agency to drive up the price on the open market.
In 2019, the Cubs will also be done with rookie contracts on a host of other guys, dealing out arbitration to Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez. (Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Carl Edwards Jr. will still be on rookie deals in 2019.)
Arbitration/rookie deals for all those guys will bring the Cubs past $100 million for 2019 — a lot of money committed to only 12 players (assuming all the guys listed so far remain a part of the picture).
That also only takes care of three pitchers, leaving nine to 10 spots on the pitching staff to allocate money to. It’s worth noting Lester will be 35 in 2019.
The Cubs will need to pour a ton of resources into the pitching staff this offseason and beyond.
But then again, if the Cubs can win another World Series this year or next, it would presumably leave them entering the 2019 free agency class in a great spot financially.
By then, Wrigley Field — and the surrounding area — could also be completely finished with all the renovations, making it the premier place to play in all of baseball and certainly an attraction for free agents.
Just dreaming on it for a second: Bryant-Harper-Rizzo would be an absolutely ridiculous heart of the order that would certainly rival the Hall of Fame trio of Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ron Santo in Cubs lore.
And of course, it will be awfully difficult to find a way to retain Bryant’s services once he hits free agency following the 2021 season with Harper already on the payroll, but that’s another problem for another time.
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Cubs keep up in NL arms race as Dodgers look at Yu Darvish and say: If not now, when?
Theo Epstein’s memorable line summing up the Aroldis Chapman deal last summer – “If not now, when?” – echoed on Monday afternoon as the news broke on Twitter that the Los Angeles Dodgers had nailed a buzzer-beater deal with the Texas Rangers for Yu Darvish.
In this National League arms race, the Cubs already made win-now moves that will benefit the future. Jose Quintana could be the 2020 Opening Day starter, Justin Wilson might be next year’s closer and the Cubs didn’t have to give up anyone from their big-league roster before the 3 p.m. non-waiver deadline.
The Cubs went into those final hours trying to be open-minded and opportunistic, but never got all that close to landing another starting pitcher, generally steering away from rental players and putting the rest of this season in the hands of their World Series core.
Is that enough? Who knows? As Anthony Rizzo always likes to say: “It’s baseball.”
But Darvish going to Hollywood as Clayton Kershaw’s sidekick for three prospects sure felt like the 2016 Cubs all over again. It didn’t matter that Darvish will become a free agent after this season and could return to his old team, the way Chapman circled back to the New York Yankees for the biggest contract ever given to a closer.
The Dodgers feel the sting from losing to the Cubs in last year’s National League Championship and the urgency that comes from a World Series drought that goes back to 1988 and a 74-31 team with a 14-game division lead.
The Dodgers have 12 more wins than the next NL team – the Washington Nationals – and still kept adding lefty relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani to a team that Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs gives a 100-percent chance to make the playoffs.
“We talked about it last year,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said on a conference call. “We felt like we were the best team. We felt like we had a great vibe. We were healthy. And I think there’s an awareness that doesn’t happen every single year.
“You might have talent every single year. You might have a good record. But there are seasons where it feels right, where you feel as though this is a group that – with a small boost or filling a certain hole – can really be special.
“Obviously, the Dodgers were really aggressive at the very end there with the two relievers and getting Darvish. They’re having an incredibly special season right now, so certainly that was the attitude we took last year by acquiring Chapman. And seemingly they took the same tactic.”
Hoyer didn’t want to get into how the Cubs are now better positioned for playoff matchups – think the left-handed Wilson vs. Nationals superstar Bryce Harper and Mr. October Daniel Murphy in the first round – and couldn’t celebrate Sonny Gray moving from the Oakland A’s to The Bronx instead of the Milwaukee Brewers.
But with the Cubs at 56-48 and all this on-paper talent finally starting to come together, those same forecasters on Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs set the playoff odds between 83.4 and 93.4 percent.
“Listen, we were two games under .500 at the All-Star break,” Hoyer said. “We all were frustrated with our performance the first half. The second half, we’ve played really well, but we got three teams that we got to hold off to win the division.
“Really, a team that was two games under .500 two weeks ago can’t be looking ahead. We’ve got to take care of business in our division. That’s where all of our focus is now.”
The Dodgers with Kershaw, Darvish, Alex Wood, Rich Hill and a deep, dynamic bullpen look like a runaway train now. But anyone who watched the Cubs last year knows anything can happen in the playoffs and understands nothing is guaranteed for a 103-win team.
The 2017 Cubs are now a much tougher out than the low-energy, distracted group that scattered for the All-Star break.
“I think that winning July is very similar to winning the offseason,” Hoyer said, meaning it’s almost like a curse sometimes. “You try to make moves to set yourself up for October. You try to make moves to set yourself up for your future as well.
“I definitely feel like we’re a stronger team now than when we were before we got Quintana in the middle of the month. We added three pieces to our team that can really help us try to win this division and then hopefully beyond that.”