In late December my health club was doing some renovations so I headed to another one in a different location (North suburbs) to get in a late night workout. As I was leaving I was talking to one of the workers there. We talked about a bunch of stuff ranging from how nice the club is to some Chicago Bears players that work out there, women members (hey I’m a guy that’s what we do), etc. when he told me something I couldn’t believe. He had heard from some of the members that Bryce Harper was looking for houses in the neighboring town. He said some of the members were buzzing and that there was chatter that the prize free agent and his wife were in town. He told me the name of the suburb, but I will not reveal it out of respect for the Harpers’ privacy just in case this is true. I wasn’t fishing for information. I wasn’t even looking for it- just making small talk. Truth be told I’m much more of a football fan than a baseball fan. However, the old adage goes where there‘s smoke there’s fire. And I think there’s fire here in Chicago- and I’m not talking about the soccer team or the one started by Catherine O’Leary’s cow. People don’t just say stuff like that out of the blue. There’s usually something to it. (Disclaimer- I don’t know Bryce Harper or any of his friends. I don’t have any sources in the Cubs organization. I really wish I did I could use a great job in sports. )
Does it make sense for the Cubs?
The short answer is yes although it’s more complicated than that. The Cubs financial issues are well publicized. Big contracts to Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, & Tyler Chatwood as well as a depleted farm system are significant hurdles which could limit their interest. However, just because they have those contracts right now doesn’t mean they’ll have them forever. Moving contracts like Heyward’s isn’t easy, but it’s possible if the Cubs are willing to include a sweetener like Ian Happ. Remember though, they’re not doing that unless they know for sure Bryce is coming to Chicago. Why upset the clubhouse if the deal falls apart or leave the team shorthanded in the outfield? Hence the waiting game- what’s the final annual offer they’ll have to compete with- 30 million, 35, 40? Once they know that- then they can decide whether to match it and to trade Heyward. So why does it make sense for the Cubs? Harper is a generational talent who has YET to hit his prime. Players like that rarely come along in free agency before their prime and Theo & Jed know it. Also signing Harper wouldn’t cost them any prospects or players to acquire him. After trading top prospect Eloy Jimenez to the White Sox you have to wonder if the thinking was let’s get Quintana’s team friendly contract and we can replace Eloy with Harper. They also have a window for a title run now. Jon Lester is no spring chicken, they also signed veteran Cole Hamels- and you’re not signing Hamels unless you’re trying to go for it now. Despite 95 wins -the Cubs offense struggled last year. Part of the blame was Bryant’s injury, but adding a force like Harper to the lineup is a major upgrade any way you slice it. Scouts figure Happ will have a good career, but he’s not expected to be a game changer like Harper can be. Heyward is a gold glove and solid leader, but Harper’s bat and upside to be one of the game’s greats surpasses that. Signing Harper not only improves the offense, but could help mend fences with Kris Bryant who was not happy about having his service time delayed his rookie year. It could pay dividends in retaining Bryant when he becomes a free agent. Bryant and Harper grew up together in Las Vegas and are close friends as are their wives. And as many of you know first hand- Happy wife=happy life. If you were Bryce Harper‘s wife wouldn’t you want to hang out in the same town with your good friend while the boys are on the road, go out to dinner together, go shopping with the kids together etc.? This is most likely a family decision. Don’t underestimate that advantage the Cubs have. Harper’s respect for Theo and Joe Maddon is well documented as is his love for Wrigley Field. This is a perfect fit and everyone knows it. Here’s the other side of the coin- if the Cubs don’t sign Harper then the opposite side of the spectrum is that they have to go against him. If a weapon like Harper falls into the wrong hands- LA, NY Yankees, or Houston it changes the balance of power in the league and could form a powerhouse too tough for even the Cubs to overcome. And that’s the dilemma Theo & Jed face which is I why I believe they’re making a run at Harper. That’s what I’d do if I was them. When you’re so close to another title and you have a chance to get a game changer like Harper you go for it. If their offer is anywhere in the ballpark (pun intended) of the other suitors they should land him. The odds of them getting Mike Trout in a few years are less likely with Trout hailing from the East Coast.
I suspect the pursuit of Harper is being kept on the down low for several reasons: not to get the fans hopes up in case they don’t get him, not to upset the current roster (Heyward, Happ, Almora), not to get into a bidding war with a team like the Phillies, Dodgers, or Yankees, etc. The local media keeps quelling reports of the Cubs interest, but what’s being reported appears to be different than what’s being said. Several reporters wrote that Kris Bryant said Harper is not coming to Chicago. I have yet to see that interview. Bryant said in an interview with Dave Kaplan recently (January 18, 2019 see link below) that he didn’t know if Bryce was coming to Chicago- NOT that he wasn’t coming.
How can some reporters misinterpret what Kris Bryant said to Dave Kaplan? It seemed pretty easy to hear what he said which was, ”I don’t know”. Is the Cubs brass is being straight up with their pessimistic outlook on signing Bryce Harper or are they simply using the media to broadcast a message, and not necessarily an honest one, to the fanbase & other potential bidders that the Cubs are out on Harper? It wouldn’t be the first time the Cubs have been less than honest for the team’s best interest. Remember in the 2017 postseason when Theo was asked a point blank question about retaining the Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio? The Cubs ultimately fired him despite saying differently prior to that. And I’m not blaming Theo for what he told the press. There’s a time and place for everything and I think that’s what this situation is. My spidey sense is telling me something doesn’t seem right here. I smell a rat. The truth is only the Cubs know if they’re in on the star outfielder and only Bryce Harper (and his wife) know where he wants to play and where they want to live. My best guess is, when it’s all said and done, that it’s going to be in Chicago for the Cubs. I mean why would there be chatter out there of the Harpers looking for a house in the North Suburbs if there wasn’t some level of interest on both sides?