100-Loss MLB Team Could Be Stunning Winner of $400M Bryce Harper Sweepstakes

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 13, 2018

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper stands on the on deck circle during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, in Washington. The Nationals won 4-3 in 10 innings. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

It's never been difficult to imagine Bryce Harper landing on the North Side of Chicago. Or suiting up in pinstripes for that matter.

Well, how about on the South Side of Chicago in White Sox pinstripes?

On a scale of improbable to probable, this would seem to fall toward the former. The White Sox are indeed interested in Harper for their outfield, not to mention fellow 26-year-old superstar Manny Machado for their infield. But according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, they're not getting their hopes up:

The White Sox have lost 195 games since 2017, including an even 100 this past season. They're much further away from World Series contention than the usual suspects in the Harper sweepstakes: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and the incumbent Washington Nationals.

There's also the money question. Super-agent Scott Boras has a record-smashing $400 million contract in mind for Harper. At the least, a six-time All-Star and MVP with a .900 OPS and 184 home runs to his name should be in line for $350 million.

Either figure would seem to be a much-too-tall order for the White Sox. The $68 million they committed to Jose Abreu back in 2013 remains the most they've ever spent on a player.

Now that all of this is out of the way, let's get to why Harper to the White Sox has to be taken seriously.

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For starters, opportunity may be knocking on Chicago's door.

The Yankees have declared themselves out on Harper, claiming their outfield is full. The Cubs keep insisting that their payroll is too bloated as is. Despite general manager Mike Rizzo's attempt at damage control, Nationals owner Mark Lerner seemed to close the door on Harper. The Phillies are acting like they don't necessarily need more bats after adding Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen.

The Dodgers would seem to be the likely beneficiary of these teams backing off. But according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, they prefer not to go back over the luxury-tax threshold. In any event, Joel Sherman of the New York Post posited that the Dodgers' preferred play may be to wait Harper out until he's willing to come aboard on a short-term deal. 

Granted, this could all just be posturing. These excuses may simply be different avenues toward a common goal: to get Boras and Harper to lower their price. 

What's true either way, however, is that the White Sox are genuinely enthusiastic about spending big bucks as they seek to bring an end to their rebuild. 

"It is time now," executive vice president Kenny Williams told reporters Monday, per MLB.com's Scott Merkin. "The conversations are very different in the room this year than they were in the last few years. We have our eye toward getting better."

Per Roster Resource, the White Sox's 2019 payroll is projected at $70.2 million. There's plenty of space for Harper between there and the franchise's payroll ceiling, which is roughly $120 million.

If the money's right, Harper presumably won't be turned off by the White Sox's location. He hasn't bothered to hide his love for Chicago, which he's expressed in many ways over the years.

Guaranteed Rate Field is one of the better parks Harper could call home. It's friendly to sluggers in general, but more so to those who bat left-handed.

To wit, quite a few of the non-homer fly balls Harper hit at Nationals Park between 2012 and 2018 would have been gone in Chicago:

Image courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com

Harper can therefore look at the White Sox and see good money and a good fit. From there, the only question is if they can offer him a chance to win.

To this end, the worst-case scenario involves Harper going to Chicago and experiencing what Alex Rodriguez went through with the Texas Rangers in the early 2000s. The Rangers had serious flaws before and after they destroyed their payroll flexibility by spending $252 million on A-Rod. He was doomed to star on moribund teams before he escaped to New York in 2004.

Harper wouldn't make the White Sox contenders overnight. Even if he were to dominate in 2019 like he did in his 2015 MVP campaign, the White Sox still might not be even a .500 team.

But if nothing else, having Harper alongside Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon and, eventually, top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease would make the White Sox more of a draw in 2019. 

For that, the payoff would be a better TV contract to replace their $51 million-per-year deal, which expires after 2019. With that, the White Sox could seek to invest further in free agency and/or trades. Throw in a healthy Michael Kopech, and a vague outline of a 2020 contender begins to materialize.

Fast-forward a few years, and Harper could have a completely different reputation. For reasons that aren't entirely clear—he did go to the playoffs four times in seven years with the Nationals, after all—he's not known as a "winner." Nothing would change that like being the guy who spearheads the White Sox's return to prominence.

Of course, this whole argument might be used to coax a proper contract out of one of the more obvious win-now teams in his sweepstakes. For the White Sox, the fear of being used by Harper and Boras must be a close second to that of simply being rejected by them.

It's not out of the question, however, that Harper could actually end up with the White Sox. He'd be taking a leap of faith, but all the potential rewards he could ask for would be there.


Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant.