SAN FRANCISCO — The Bryce Harper Saga has officially been going on for three months now, but unofficially, the speculation has lasted years. So, we’ve heard dozens of different reasons why he should sign with a handful of different teams, and a few of them had to do with location.
Harper is a Las Vegas native, someone who is very proud of his hometown and lets the world know it. That connection made the Cubs a popular choice, where he could team up with Kris Bryant, another Las Vegas star. It made the Dodgers the most logical choice all along. It allowed the Giants to at one point — prior to their rebuild-that’s-not-being-called-a-rebuild — to dream about Harper choosing San Francisco over other appealing destinations.
It makes sense. And so, incredibly, do the Padres.
The latest news, courtesy, as always, of Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, is that Harper is meeting with the Padres tonight. On the surface, it’s a ridiculous rumor and easy to dismiss.
San Diego’s Opening Day payroll has been over $100 million just once in the franchise’s history, and it was about $70 million just 22 months ago. Harper by himself should make about half of that per season. The Padres generally are not contenders. Their best shot at filling beautiful Petco Park is usually to get a weekend series with a contending Giants team. They’re viewed as being at least another year away from having a shot to even make noise in the National League West.
And yet … they make a ton of sense.
We’ll start with the money, because you always do with guys like this. Every Major League team can afford Bryce Harper. Some are choosing to spend that money elsewhere, most are pocketing it. The Padres gave Eric Hosmer, a fellow Scott Boras client, $144 million last year, but there’s plenty left in that vault. The sport is flooded with cash, and a chunk of that salary could be made up by ticket and merchandise sales in a town that now has just one professional team.
As for the other factors, well, the Padres might not be as far away as the general public thinks. They already have graduated young talent to the majors and they have the best farm system around, thanks to years of creative tinkering from GM A.J. Preller. According to Baseball America, the Padres have nine of the Top 100 prospects in the sport. That would allow for two paths.
If Harper is willing to go to San Diego and be patient, he could wait for all of that young pitching to arrive, for Fernando Tatis Jr. (either the first- or second-best prospect in the sport) to become a star, for Francisco Mejia to develop, for the outfield mix to sort itself out, etc. etc. With a little luck, the Padres could enter 2020 with a real shot at contending.
Or the Padres could sign Harper and accelerate everything. They’ve always been able to put together strong bullpens using random bearded men you’ve never heard of. What if you add Harper to the middle of the lineup, sign fellow Boras client Mike Moustakas to fill the hole at third, and trade some of that outfield and prospect depth for MLB-ready starters? In a division where the Giants have taken a step back, the Diamondbacks traded their best player, and the Rockies haven’t added ahead of Nolan Arenado’s walk year, the Padres could quickly find themselves as the team with the best shot at chasing down the Dodgers.
A lot would have to go right, but a lot had to go right just for us to be in this position. The Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and others seemingly decided Harper wasn’t the right move, leaving him with few appealing options. If he truly doesn’t want to return to Washington D.C., it shouldn’t surprise us at all that Harper is meeting with the Padres.
The Phillies and White Sox have plenty of warts, too, so along came the Padres executives, to boast of a bright future, remind Harper that he got married at the Mormon Temple in San Diego, tell him how short their trip to Las Vegas was.
If the Padres are really smart, they’ll walk into that meeting and simply take out their weather apps. On the last day of January, it’s 63 degrees in San Diego. That’s as strong a reason as any to sign somewhere.