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Lo Duca: My Take on the Bryce Harper Free Agency Odds

Lo Duca: My Take on the Bryce Harper Free Agency Odds article feature image

Geoff Burke, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Bryce Harper

  • The Philadelphia Phillies (+300) are the betting favorite to land Bryce Harper.
  • The Nationals, the only team Harper has played for, are third-favorites at +500.
  • Paul Lo Duca breaks down the market and provides insight into what he thinks Harper is looking for in the market.

MLB Winter Meetings begin this week in Las Vegas so it’s time to break down the odds for the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes.

Harper, 26, has played seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, posting a .279/.388/.512 slash line with 184 home runs and 521 RBIs in 927 games. He is in the prime of his career and is a big-ticket player with the personality to go along with it.

The question I have is: Does Harper want the money  or does he want to win a World Series. Of course the Las Vegas native will say it’s about winning, but this is his opportunity to cash in on all the hard work he’s put in for his entire life.

And when I say does he want the money, I don’t just mean in salary, but also stuff like endorsements that come with playing in bigger markets. If Harper plays for the Yankees or Red Sox or Cubs, his marketability would dwarf what it would be if he chose to play for a smaller market team.

According to the odds — and the owner of the Washington Nationals Ted Lerner — Harper is likely to move on. Is that really the case? Who knows. But this will be fun to talk about for the next few days.

Here are the latest odds:

The Favorites

The Phillies are the favorites to land Harper’s John Hancock. Philadelphia ticks every box. The Phils have a ton of money, a dynamic young lineup, a terrific pitching staff and Harper’s offensive numbers would soar in that ballpark.

Here’s another under-the-radar factor. The outfield in Citizens Bank Ballpark is pretty small and that would be easier on Harper’s body in the outfield. It’s not going to be the reason he chooses to play in the City of Brotherly Love, but I promise you it’s something he’s spoke about with his agent, Scott Boras.

The Dodgers are the second-favorites in the race and they are another team that makes sense. Los Angeles has deep pockets, it keeps winning National League pennants and Harper would be a star in Hollywood.

But if I was Harper, would this be the right fit? The Dodgers have a solid young lineup, but Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson are all left-handed hitters. It’s not a huge deal, but once again this is a major decision and Bryce will go over every detail.

Don’t forget, Magic Johnson — who just brought LeBron James to the Lakers — is part of the Dodgers’ ownership group and is being enlisted to sell Harper on the Dodgers.

I played for the Dodgers. I spend a lot of time in Los Angeles still. And let me tell you, LA has always been a Laker town. Sure, the Dodgers became the talk of the town the past two seasons while the Lakers struggled, but LeBron is there now. Harper would play second fiddle if he signs in Los Angeles.

Why would he go to Los Angeles, pay huge taxes and be under the spotlight if he isn’t the guy in Hollywood’s sports scene?

The Dodgers will definitely make a huge play for Harper as they are desperate to cash in one of these years, but I don’t think it’s the right fit for Bryce.

The Only Team He’s Known

That brings us to the Nationals. Lerner already said they offered him $300 million and that’s their biggest number, so the fact that he didn’t take it suggests he’s moving on. I think that’s just the owner playing some chess.

The Nats just went out and signed left-handed ace Patrick Corbin to a six-year deal. He joins a staff that already boasts Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. This team could contend for what figures to be a competitive National League East this season. After signing Corbin, the Nationals moved from 20-1 to 12-1 to win the World Series.

In addition to a terrific staff, the Nationals have plenty of promising young hitters in Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Victor Robles. Harper would be the centerpiece for sure, but the point is that this team isn’t about to get blown up — they are firmly in win-now mode.

The Outsiders

After the Nationals, the Giants are the most surprising team to see in the top five. If I’m Harper, I’m staying far away from the Giants. They aren’t ready to win and why would I waste my prime years playing for a team that is several pieces away from contending.

I do think the Cubs could be a great fit and Joe Maddon has a way of connecting with guys like Harper. There’s also the Vegas connection with Kris Bryant, Harper’s good pal. The Cubs will be in the running until the end, but I don’t see this being the right fit.

The Cardinals became a little more interesting after they traded for Paul Goldschmidt and the Cards are always a threat to contend, but I don’t think it’s the right fit for Harper. As much as St. Louis loves the Birds, Harper has his eye on brighter lights.

I know that the White Sox are becoming the sleeper team in this race and the South Siders have a ton of young talent coming through the system, but are they close enough to contending that Harper would take the risk? He would give them a huge piece to the puzzle, but it’s a risky move. Plus, the White Sox are the “second team” in the Windy City.

Top 3 teams in the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes according to @kurkjian_ESPN

1. Phillies
2. Dodgers
3. White Sox

— Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN) December 7, 2018

The hot stove will always produce these sort of takes from insiders and some of them have serious legs, but the point is that until Harper signs on the dotted line, it’s all hearsay.

I won’t get too deep on the other teams aside from mentioning that the Yankees are the Yankees so you never know. It would mean some huge changes for Harper — he’d probably see time at first base and DH — and I don’t think he’ll want that right now.

My Pick

I don’t disagree with the odds that the Phillies should be the favorite to land Harper, but thinking about what I know about the free agency process and baseball players — I think Bryce will defy the odds.

I actually think Harper is misunderstood. He certainly rubs people the wrong way, but I don’t think you can fault the guy for acting the way he does. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is a perfectionist. He knows how good he is and winning is what matters most to him. Boras may be in his ear about maxing out his earnings, but in the end I think Harper’s decision will come down to getting the payoff he’s been searching for since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010.

Bryce Harper has given his all to the Nationals and I think he will continue to do so until he’s swimming in fountains like Alex Ovechkin did after the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.

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