Manny Machado

How Bryce Harper-Phillies deal will affect Cubs moving forward

How Bryce Harper-Phillies deal will affect Cubs moving forward

Now that the dust has settled on Bryce Harper's record deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, we can now turn (most of) our attention to the season ahead.

Only a few high-profile free agents remain, but otherwise we know pretty much where everybody will spend their 2019 campaign and which teams are expecting to contend.

With that, let's take a look at how Harper's 13-year contract affects the Cubs this year and moving forward:

The Cubs' road just got tougher and 2019 just got a bit more dire

While the Cubs stayed mostly stagnant this winter, the rest of the National League around them got quite a bit better.

Harper hasn't been linked to an American League team in months, but now it's official he will remain in the NL, joining forces with J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura on a much-improved Phillies team.

As a matter of fact, you could describe a bunch of NL teams as "much-improved" — on paper, at least.

The Phillies, Mets, Padres, Reds and Cardinals all got significantly better this winter while the Nationals still look every bit a contender even without Harper.

The Braves, Rockies, Brewers and Dodgers all enter 2019 with largely the same roster that earned them a trip to the playoffs a year ago, though each squad added a pretty-high profile player in free agency to improve their teams (Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Yasmani Grandal, A.J. Pollock).

Even the Pirates continue to boast an underrated roster amid their standard quiet winter.

Only the Diamondbacks got worse while the Marlins and Giants also figure to be on the outside looking in at the playoff race this year even if their roster isn't markedly worse.

Don't get me wrong — the Cubs have a great roster, too, and they have plenty of reason for optimism in the year ahead.

But don't expect the Cubs to roll through the NL this year like they did in 2016.

Their division is the hardest in baseball and it could shape up to be the toughest from top to bottom since the NL East in 2005, when the Nationals finished in last with a .500 record (81-81). 

Unless the Pirates or Reds underperform expectations in 2019 (which is entirely possible), the Cubs won't get to catch their breath within the division all year and they certainly won't get a break playing against the NL East (with 4 contending teams) or West (with potentially 3 contenders).

The NL is going to be a dogfight from start to finish and the Cubs will need every bit of their internal improvement/new sense of urgency they prioritized over the winter.

The future of Kris Bryant and others

It's probably going to be tougher for the Cubs to sign star players to extensions in the future — namely Bryant and Javy Baez.

Anthony Rizzo is a special case in that he already agreed to a team-friendly extension way back when he was in pre-arbitration, so it's definitely possible he would be open to another deal to extend his time as a Cub. He'll also be 32 by the time he hits free agency (after 2021) and leaving the prime of his career, increasing the liklihood he may just opt to re-sign with the Cubs.

But Bryant will only be 30 and Baez will be 29 as the two stars head into free agency after that 2021 season. 

With how long free agency dragged on this winter, we heard more and more talk about star players like Harper and Manny Machado possibly having to settle for short-term, high-value deals. Only a handful of teams were involved and even as recently as mid-February (at the start of spring training), nobody knew if Harper or Machado would even be able to get to the $300 million threshold they both desired.

This winter was largely a scary time for free agents. Many baseball players saw how difficult the process has become and decided they didn't want to hit the market, instead rethinking extensions with their current teams.

We've seen a bunch of that recently, as Nolan Arenado, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino and Miles Mikolas all inked deals with their respective teams to avoid hitting free agency in the near future.

But with Machado netting $300 million over 10 years and Harper $330 million over 13 seasons, it was enough of a sigh of relief for select free agents — the stars. 

Free agency is still completely broken, especially for the guys in the middle of the pack. But Machado and Harper proved the game's truly elite players could still net record deals on the open market and Bryant and Baez may well still be among the game's elite when they hit free agency. They'll both still be firmly in the midst of their prime.

That likely doesn't change a whole lot at the negotiating table between the Cubs and Bryant's/Baez's respective camps now. But if Harper or Machado had been forced to take short-term deals or did not get the money they desired, it would've painted a scarier picture of free agency and given the Cubs a better hand to play in extension talks.

Are the Cubs nearing the end of the championship window?

Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester and Mike Montgomery join Bryant, Baez and Rizzo as notable Cubs who hit the open market after that 2021 season. 

Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana are under team control for only another two seasons.

Just about the entire bullpen is unsigned after this year and Cole Hamels and Ben Zobrist will also hit free agency in 9 months.

The farm system is ranked among the worst in the game and no stars appear to be on the cusp of hitting the big leagues.

The Cubs' championship window isn't shut by any means, but it's certainly closing. The possible end is in sight.

The Cubs already felt the need for a stronger sense of urgency in 2019, but they also are running out of time to win another ring and potentially reignite all that "dynasty" talk.

Of course, Theo Epstein's front office will continue to add to the team and build up the farm system over the next few years in an effort to keep that window of contention open longer, but this winter was a prime chance to greatly improve their roster for this season and they were instead forced to pinch pennies and only make minor additions.

Harper signing with the Phillies Thursday officially slammed the door shut for any Cubs fans who were holding out hope that all the talk of the budget woes were just to drive the price down.

And it officially eliminated any possibility of the Cubs making a huge splash before Opening Day, as Harper was essentially the last free agent that would've been a major upgrade on some area of the Cubs' roster. (Craig Kimbrel would obviously help the Cubs bullpen, but Epstein has never paid big money for a closer and the Cubs have not been linked to the right-hander at all this winter.)

So the Cubs will head to Opening Day with only Daniel Descalso, Brad Brach and possibly another bullpen arm or two as the only additions to the 25-man roster.

Who will be Cubs fans' next big target?

Now that Bryce Harper won't be available again until 2032, Cubs fans have no choice but to cross him off their free agent wish list and move on to the next name.

Will it be Anthony Rendon or Chris Sale next winter? Mike Trout, Mookie Betts or Jacob deGrom after 2020? Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa or Clayton Kershaw after 2021?

No matter who fans rally behind, we probably won't ever see anything quite like this Harper circus again.

One thing's for certain: The next free agent crush of the fanbase won't hit the open market with a dog named "Wrigley."

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In interview, Kenny Williams addresses fan anger and the fallout of White Sox missing out on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

In interview, Kenny Williams addresses fan anger and the fallout of White Sox missing out on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

Manny Machado is still a San Diego Padre. Bryce Harper is still a Philadelphia Phillie. And White Sox fans are still angry.

No, nothing's changed since earlier Thursday, when Harper broke Machado's week-and-change-old record for the biggest free-agent contract in the history of American pro sports, officially leaving the White Sox empty handed in their pursuits of the two biggest names on this offseason's free-agent market.

Neither guy ended up on the South Side, despite the fact that the team went after both, going especially hard on Machado, to the point where general manager Rick Hahn and team vice president Kenny Williams seemed blindsided when the 26-year-old infielder spurned them for the Padres last week.

Well, more than a week later, Williams voiced his opinion on the fallout in an interview with the Sun-Times' Daryl Van Schouwen, addressing the harsh reaction of fans who have taken to social media to express their outrage with the team's effort and approach to the negotiations.

"I was going to say it has already passed for us but Rick and I were talking about it yesterday, and it ain’t bleeping passed," Williams told Van Schouwen. "It’s a shame if it’s being portrayed that we were on the cheap on this thing. That’s really interesting because, holy s**t, that’s a quarter of a billion dollars we offered with a chance to be higher than what he’s getting."

White Sox fans have indeed attacked the front office for being cheap, and Williams is not exactly wrong in correcting them there. The White Sox committed to spend as much as $350 million on Machado. That is, by definition, the opposite of cheap.

But it doesn't take someone with inside info to figure out that the reason Machado is playing for the Padres right now is that there was a $50 million difference in the amount of guaranteed money in the two offers. The White Sox only offered $250 million guaranteed, while the Padres offered $300 million guaranteed. Machado went with the latter. And while Williams is not wrong in arguing that the White Sox offer could have made Machado richer over time, if Machado breaks his leg tomorrow, he'll be $50 million richer than he would have been had he signed with the White Sox.

That's a big difference. And a lot of fans feel the White Sox could've and should've done more, what with the financial flexibility they've talked about for so many months. Williams, though, thinks they did the best they could have done.

"There is nothing I can say that will make them feel better," Williams told Van Schouwen. "Rest assured that no one is feeling what Rick and I are feeling because every single day since June of last year, this is what we had planned for, the pursuit of both Harper and Machado. Harper (was) well out of our range. With Machado we extended ourselves as far as we could without jeopardizing what we’re going to need to do in the future.

"People are lost on the fact that on a yearly basis our offer was more than San Diego’s. The average annual value was 31 (million dollars) and change. So it was about years guaranteed. So there is an argument that could be made that our offer was the better of the two. It certainly had more upside for him. All he had to do was basically stay healthy."

Williams spoke the morning news of Machado's deal with the Padres broke, and his comments then irked a lot of fans, as he said part of the reason the White Sox couldn't commit more guaranteed dollars to Machado now was that they needed to plan for the day when their current prospects and young major leaguers need new contracts. That might be true, but it's at least half a decade down the road.

Well, the fans who were miffed by those comments that day won't be happy about these new ones, with Williams doubling down on that explanation.

"Our fans would have been much more disappointed in our inability to keep this next core together," Williams told Van Schouwen. "We would have overextended ourselves had we gone to an uncomfortable level."

The social-media rage is unlikely to subside, and these comments, coupled with the outcome of both pursuits, do little to disprove what Hahn referred to as a "false narrative" at SoxFest that the White Sox would not spend enough to bring top-of-the-line free agents to the South Side. No matter the effort level in the pursuits or the potential money committed, until the White Sox win a high-profile free-agent derby, that narrative, true or false, will remain intact.

In situations like these, money always seems to do the majority of the talking. Williams confirming that the White Sox were unwilling to spend what it ended up taking to land each of these free agents shows they might not have been having the same conversation as other teams, at least not the Padres with Machado or the Phillies with Harper.

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The Giants may be emerging as the new lead horse in Bryce Harper Sweepstakes

The Giants may be emerging as the new lead horse in Bryce Harper Sweepstakes

 

Smash Mouth may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but they’re certainly not putting their fingers and thumbs in the shape of an “L” on their foreheads.

Not yet, anyways.

The Bryce Harper Sweepstakes might be reaching a fever pitch, with the report Wednesday from NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic that the San Francisco Giants offered the superstar a 10-year deal.

That falls right in line with what Smash Mouth — yes, *that* Smash Mouth — tweeted from their official account Tuesday afternoon:

There’s no indication yet from Pavlovic or elsewhere how much the Giants are offering over that 10-year span, but it’s fair to assume it would be beyond the $300 million Manny Machado got last week. It’s been suggested often this winter that Harper and his superagent Scott Boras would like to top the overall value of Machado’s contract.

Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Washington Nationals before the end of the 2018 regular season.

The Giants have been one of the latest arrivals to the Harper Sweepstakes and it was tough to discern how interested they’d be in inking the slugger to a long-term deal.

But now they may well be the favorites in landing Harper and placing him some 500 miles north of Machado and the Padres.

The Giants woke up Wednesday morning as one of only 3 teams in the National League that didn’t appear to be “going for it” in the near future, but obviously adding Harper to the mix would change those expectations in the snap of a finger (or the swipe of a pen).

Right now, the Giants “boast” an outfield of Steve Duggar, Mac Williamson and Gerardo Parra with Drew Ferguson and Cameron Maybin also working into the picture.

Adding Harper would be a huge get for the lineup, pairing him with Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford. That may not spell a playoff team for 2019 — especially with Johnny Cueto set to miss the entire year and serious pitching questions beyond that — but it certainly would add further mud to the NL waters.

That’s not good news for a Cubs team with no money coming off a very quiet winter, but it’s still probably better than Harper going to a team like the Dodgers or Nationals — two squads that are set to be contenders even without his services.

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