Let's be clear from the jump: every single MLB team could use Bryce Harper.
The 120-win, reigning-champion Boston Red Sox would move Jackie Bradley Jr. or Andrew Benintendi in a heartbeat if it meant landing Harper. The Houston Astros, who've arguably been the best team in baseball over the last three years, tried to trade for him in August. His probably-previous team, the Washington Nationals, would have a top-5 OF *without* him and they're still going to bend over backwards to re-sign him. He's just that valuable, and as fun as it can be to take the contraian route and insist that your team doesn't have $350+ million to spend on Harper, they 1. absolutely do, and 2. probably wish they could.
This all brings us to the Cubs. Harper's long been rumored to have his eye on Chicago, and even the most shallow dive into Google would reveal more than enough Instragram posts with Kris Bryant to lend some weight to the rumors.
I hear you, I do. The Cubs will have the highest payroll in baseball heading into the 2019 season! With glaring holes in their rotation and at the top of the order, spending a cool 350 million bucks on one player who does neither of those things is a fool's errand! Jayson Heyward might bounce back from his 36-month slump!
For the sake of this article's word count, we'll skip past the financial "juggling" that signing Harper would take. For now, just know that signing him is entirely possible for a team that is worth $3 billion dollars and has an annual revenue around $500 million. Walk down Clark Street and tell me that spending money is a problem for the Cubs.
Signing Harper would immediately give the Cubs the offensive fire power that Theo Epstien and anyone that tuned into a Cubs game after the All-Star Game could see was missing. Here's a look at where Harper's 2018 stats would compare to the Cubs' 2018 leader in the same category:
- wRC+: 135 -- 1st (Baez 131)
- wOBA: .376 -- 1st (Baez .366)
- OPS: .889 -- 1st (Baez .881)
- SLG: .496 -- 2nd (Baez .554)
- Dingers: 34 -- Tied 1st (Baez)
- ISO: .247 -- 2nd (Baez .264)
- OBP: .393 -- 1st (Zobrist .378)
- BB%: 18.7 -- 1st (Schwarber 15.3%)
- K%: 24.3 -- 9th (only better than Schwarber -- 27.5 %-- and Happ -- 36.1 %)
- Avg. Exit Velo: 90.2 mph -- 1st (Schwarber/Happ 90.0) *though David Bote registered a 93.5 avg in 200 ABs*
To put it another way, Javy Baez had the season of his life, an MVP-caliber campaign, and he still wasn't as good of a hitter as Harper was during what many consider to be an underwhelming year for the latter. The narrative that Harper can only outslug an otherwise-more-well-rounded hitter in Baez isn't any more accurate, made evident by the fact that Baez also strikes out more, walks less, and makes weaker contact. He has a marginally better batting average, sure, but comparing batting averages is a nearly-useless exercise in 2018.
And yeah, okay, Harper's not a great fielder. Defensive stats are what they are, but even the most cynical stathead can look at Harper's fielding page on FanGraphs -- and the negative numbers splattered all over it -- and comfortably deduce that fielding isn't his specialty. With that said, the Cubs gave 82 percent of their innings in left field to *checks notes* Kyle Schwarber last year, so they clearly aren't all that worried about a strong glove at that position. After it was trendy to declare Schwarber's defense a fixed issue in the early goings of last season, his 11 outfield assists help hide the significant regression that followed. Credit where credit's due: Schwarber was better in left last season, but even his better isn't worth passing up Harper for.
In 39 games this year, the Cubs scored zero or one run. They went from being an above average offensive team (107 wRC+) in the 1st half to a subpar one (88 wRC+ -- 24th in MLB) in the 2nd. Not having Kris Bryant obviously plays a role. Kyle Schwarber's comically-bad performance in clutch moments likely won't repeat itself. There are reasons to believe that, given some better health and a few more fortunate bounces, the Cubs' offense could be much better even without Harper. With that said, rolling the dice on health and fortune isn't how you fix a problem. Signing Bryce Harper is.