I know we are in baseball season still and we are about 2-3 months away from the free agent market heating up. However, I figured it would be a a good time with the Washington Nationals making their final trip to Atlanta in 2018 (very more than likely the final trip unless the Nationals practically win 20 in a row, which is very doubtful). That means Atlanta fans could very well be seeing Bryce Harper in his final games in a Nationals jersey.
But would it be the last time Atlanta fans see Harper roaming the outfield at SunTrust Park?
Of course, Harper is a free agent after this season and he will be the #1 free agent on the market. We hear the big contenders of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs are lining up to pursue the talented, yet quite possibly “hasn’t-lived-up-to-the-great-expectations” Harper to this point. And of course, they have the deep pockets to get him. And of course, the Nationals will probably make a push to keep their franchise player put.
So why do I think the Braves would be the best fit for a guy who will likely be commanding a contract north of $300 million?
A few reasons honestly.
The Braves have a talent-rich farm system. You’re talking one of the top 3 farms in the Majors. Yes, the Yankees and Dodgers both have the same talent on theirs so it really doesn’t really pan out. The Nationals are in the middle of the pack. And the Cubs with all their moves the last few years, their farm system now ranks in the bottom third. But why does this matter? Simple: The Braves (as well as the Dodgers and Yankees) can either have more stars come out of the farm to play (Austin Riley, Joey Wentz, Ian Anderson, etc.) or if needed can make a trade here & there to get that established ace. But if a player moves on the Braves could use that guy for a call-up. In Washington and now what you might see in Chicago, the call-ups won’t be as effective and you could get comments of what Harper said this year about his team of that the Nationals were more like the Syracuse Chiefs, a bunch of “okay” guys that really can’t play at a consistent MLB level.
The Braves could still likely be able to keep the core in tact despite the heavy contract Harper would have. Albies, Acuña, Foltynewicz, etc. would be under control for years and with some money shifting around, they could keep a lot of those guys in tact for the large sum of Harper’s contract. The Cubs can’t do that with Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, Contreras, etc. as they will have a hard time doing that with them as it is without Harper. The Yankees may have a problem as they took on Stanton’s contract and will have to find ways to keep Judge around too and the possibility of him having a $300 million contract as well. The Dodgers would have to make some decisions as well with the likes of their players such as Bellinger, Pederson, Turner, and possibly Machado.
SunTrust Park is very favorable to left-handed hitters. Moreso than Nationals Park and Dodger Stadium. Playing in Yankee Stadium and the other spots in the AL East would probably spike Bryce’s home run totals by far so this isn’t necessarily a major advantage the Braves have over others. However, he could still see his offensive numbers spike in a place like SunTrust Park.
The Braves lineup is far stronger than the Nationals lineup. Of course, again, the Yankees lineup would be stronger. However, Bryce wouldn’t be as much as a focal point to the lineup and somewhat “hidden” with Acuña, Albies, and Freeman around. Pile it on with Johan Camargo, and if Dansby Swanson can improve in the lineup, you have a pretty strong lineup. You could have Harper in front of Freeman, hitting behind Acuña and/or Albies, and then you would be able to find a way to have Austin Riley up to play third, and move Camargo at short and trade Swanson or keep Swanson and trade Camargo. Either way, Harper would not be a major focal point to the Braves lineup like he is with the Nationals lineup.
The Braves organization would hold Harper probably more accountable than the Nationals. It always seems like whatever Harper has wanted in Washington, Harper got. He was the franchise and he made no qualms about it. He wouldn’t be that in Atlanta, which I think may take some pressure off of him as well. And he would also be under “The Braves Way” and while I’ve ripped on how the Braves have done business over the years (notably in how they were able to build SunTrust Park), they have kept the same pattern with their professional baseball players in the farm. While Harper may not like it, again, it could be something HE needs.
Harper could be more laid back in Atlanta. One of the things I’ve noticed is the Harper at times looks aloof in Washington around his teammates. He also seems like he is distant towards teammates. I’m not saying it is a negative, but I also think he feels a lot of pressure whether he is thinking about his next contract or he is trying to be that superstar in baseball. However, the one thing I’ve also noticed is his interactions notably with Freddie Freeman when the Nationals and Braves play each other. He is laughing, cutting around, and somewhat playing with the Braves star first baseman while Freeman is responding in kind. And the one thing that we saw at the Home Run Derby was that Harper was letting loose and having a great time. I think he would be in a great situation when the pressure isn’t sky high on him and he can be himself, not having to apply added pressure.
Braves fans would be very supportive of him. Harper has given Atlanta a backhanded compliment (at least I think it is) that the Braves fans are the rudest fans to him. This is over the Mets fans and Phillies fans, who religiously are known for riding opposing players (and their own). To me, it’s a comment saying “Yeah, they pretty much love their team here and care about baseball.” It is a far cry from the actual “label” of Atlanta being a bandwagon town. And he said this when the Braves were in the midst of rebuilding, not what it is now, or when he first started and the Braves were decent then. As for the Braves fans, they look at Bryce as public enemy #1 in baseball right now and maybe only Jim Leyritz is loathed more than Harper in the Braves fans system. But we’ve seen when the jerseys change and the public enemy of a certain team joins that team (in any sport), they give them a standing O the minute they step out to the field/court/arena, etc. The Braves fans would do the same on his first at-bat. “But but, the Yankees would too!” Unless he goes 0-for-20 with 13 K’s. And also, think about when ARod was in New York and spent over 10 years there. He was never really considered one of “their own” like Jeter, Bernie, Rivera, etc. Braves fans didn’t have that problem when Maddux arrived in Atlanta in 1993 he was one of “their own” the minute he stepped foot. And for a guy that portrays that image, I think that is very big for a guy like Harper and you would have to wonder though if the Yankees fans give him the boo-birds and if he retaliates towards them.
The monster question is will Liberty Media (the “owners” of the Braves) open up the wallet and give Harper a contract to his liking? With the new park, you would figure bringing a superstar of Harper’s caliber would put the Braves as a major draw and a front-runner for the next 5 years. I may be biased on it, but I think going to a place like New York where the pressure is always going to be on him, wouldn’t be the best of fits. I think after what has gone on in Washington this year and the possibility of trading Harper before the non-waiver deadline could have opened up some (more) rifts among the Nationals and Harper (and to be fair, Harper’s comments a few times this year didn’t sit well with Washington either) has eliminated Bryce from coming back. The Cubs would have a hard time fitting Harper for his contract demands especially with everybody else looking for huge paydays on that team down the road as well and in 4 years, Chicago would be what we are seeing out of Washington this year.
Maybe Bryce Harper fulfills his dream of being a Yankee or get close back home to Los Angeles and maybe he doesn’t even bother considering the Braves. But I think if the price is right, this would be his best bet and something to think about.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat