With Clayton Kershaw Staying, Dodgers Must Throw Blank Check at Bryce Harper

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2018

FILE - In this Saturday, July 22, 2017 file photo, Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper waits to bat against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Phoenix. The Los Angeles Dodgers will pay baseball's highest luxury tax for the fourth straight year and the New York Yankees owe a penalty for a 15th consecutive season. The Dodgers and Yankees vow to get below next year's tax threshold of $197 million. That would reset their base tax rate from 50 percent to 20 percent going into the 2018-19 offseason, when Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and possibly Clayton Kershaw head a potentially illustrious free-agent class. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

After losing the World Series for the second consecutive year in 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers' first offseason priority was to retain Clayton Kershaw.

Forget his postseason hiccups and the back and biceps injuries that have recently hampered him. Kershaw is the face of the Dodgers and the greatest pitcher of his generation. With a player opt-out looming, L.A. had no choice but to re-up its ace.

Hence the three-year, $93 million extension Kershaw inked with Los Angeles.

The Dodgers' work isn't done, however; it's merely beginning. Keeping Kershaw in the fold was the first step for a club in unambiguous win-now mode.

The next step? Sign Bryce Harper.

Along with Manny Machado, Harper headlines the lauded, gaudy 2018-19 free-agent class. The Dodgers acquired Machado at the '18 non-waiver trade deadline and could bring him back. There are a couple of problems with that.

First, Los Angeles is set on the left side of the infield with third baseman Justin Turner and shortstop Corey Seager, who is on track to return from Tommy John surgery. 

Second, Machado's production dipped with the Dodgers. He posted a .963 OPS with the Baltimore Orioles compared to an .825 OPS with Los Angeles. More damningly, he slashed .227/.278/.394 in the postseason and exhibited dubious hustle.     

Harper, meanwhile, hit 34 home runs and tallied 100 RBI with the Washington Nationals. Yes, his OPS slid from 1.008 in 2017 to .889 in 2018 and the Nats missed the playoffs. He's an immense talent, however, whose brash personality is built for the Southern California spotlight.

Imagine Harper's "make baseball fun again" antics married to the glitz of Hollywood. It's a match made in headline-grabbing heaven.

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Technically, Los Angeles is covered in the outfield with the mix of Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez. 

That said, the Dodgers are all but obligated to make a seismic splash this winter. Their title drought surpassed the three-decade mark. Tinkering with the roster won't cut it.

Harper, backed by superagent Scott Boras, will seek a contract larger than the record $325 million deal Giancarlo Stanton signed with the Miami Marlins in November 2014. 

He's also a six-time All-Star who won National League MVP honors in 2015 and celebrated his 26th birthday on October 16. 

As Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times noted:

"The Dodgers again have to embrace the responsibility that comes with playing in this market. They can't use the luxury-tax threshold as an excuse anymore. They have to reinvest the money they are earning from their disastrous but nonetheless lucrative television contract, as well as the sales of tickets that continue to escalate in price. They should absolutely pursue Harper, who is not only the most talented free agent of his generation but also a personality capable of representing the franchise."

It's a fair point. The Dodgers have positioned themselves as MLB's big, bad bullies. They throw money around like so much presumptive confetti. Simply winning the division and crossing their fingers aren't enough.

L.A. has to go big. It doesn't get bigger than Harper.

With Kershaw locked in, this is the next logical move. It carries risk. It'll rile up the haters. Really, though, that's the point. And, if you believe ESPN.com's Buster Olney, the Dodgers might need to sign Harper to keep him away from the archrival San Francisco Giants

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Close your eyes and picture Harper and Puig in a bat-flipping contest. Picture Harper flipping his hair in Dodger blue.

"Who comes to L.A.?" former Dodger Steve Garvey said, per Hernandez. "The big stars. LeBron's here. L.A. has the best path for the remainder of his career. He can make a difference with his personality and who he is."

It makes too much sense.

Make it happen, Dodgers. 

      

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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