SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants first started dreaming of Bryce Harper, they did so as contenders -- the three-time champs with a roster full of players who could realistically join the slugger in another run through the postseason.
When they actually sat down with him this week, they did so with a new face in the room for a key reason. Farhan Zaidi was one of three team higher-ups to travel to Las Vegas. He is in this position, of course, because the previous regime lost 187 games over the past two seasons.
Harper’s decision will come down to money, for the most part, but it’s also fair to assume he’ll want to join a good situation. When the news broke Wednesday, a lot of people on social media were quick to point out that Harper wouldn’t want to come to a rebuilding team.
He probably doesn’t, but there’s also a reason the Giants were able to jump back into the mix in February. The Yankees? Dodgers? Cubs? Cardinals? They all have shied away this offseason, so the field the Giants have joined isn’t exactly brimming with potential contenders.
PECOTA, a projection system from Baseball Prospectus, has the Giants at 71 wins in 2019.
Let’s take a look at how that compares to the other known suitors trying to get Harper away from the Nationals …
Phillies (86-76 projected record)
Alright, they’re in a much better situation than the Giants after adding J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and others to a team that got off to a hot start in 2018. But they’re also projected to finish just third in a loaded division, and PECOTA put them ahead of the Braves, which seems a stretch. If Harper is looking to get back to the postseason, the NL East is not an easy situation, with the Nationals and Mets loading up to match a young Braves team that has waves of more talent coming. The Phillies could be much, much better next season and still end up third or fourth in their division.
White Sox (70-92)
They’re loaded with prospects, but they’re not close to contending. That core is a year or two away, and both Harper and Manny Machado are viewed as signature pieces young enough to grow with the prospects. But prospects are not guaranteed, and the White Sox haven’t shown enough development to be considered a sure thing to turn this around at any point.
They’re a similar case, and they actually jumped the line a year ago, giving Eric Hosmer a massive deal to grow with their prospects. That’s what the White Sox are hoping to do. The farm system here is better than any in the game, but the younger players the Padres have actually graduated already have not turned into All-Stars, or anything close. People familiar with this team will tell you the Padres are built to surprise in 2020, and even that isn’t guaranteed.
The Giants have their own big-time issues, with a poor farm system, aging roster, and standouts like Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith entering contract years. There’s a reason they’re mostly rebuilding, after all. But there’s also likely a reason Harper hasn’t seem all that enamored with the field that’s been chasing him all offseason.
The teams that have been publicly connected to him haven’t recently been contenders, and if the Giants, who fit that mold too, are actually serious about trying to sign Harper, that should help their cause. They still have Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Dereck Rodriguez and others locked in, after all, and financially they're in with the Yankees and Dodgers and Cubs, not the White Sox or Padres. When Zaidi sat down with Harper this week, that gave him a head start over some of the others.