Bryce Harper, a National League MVP at 23, is a free agent at 26, peddling his services in an industry that’s grown to nearly $11 billion in annual revenues. His combination of skills, age and marketing cachet make him an excellent fit for any major league baseball franchise.
Particularly the St. Louis Cardinals.
Harper, a career .279 hitter with 184 home runs, rejected a 10-year, $300 million contract in September from the Washington Nationals.
A look at why Harper — the top free agent on the open market — could and should sign with the Cardinals:
On the field
Wherever Harper lands, the big-picture implications will far outweigh a team’s 2019 alignment. As it turns out, Harper fits in St. Louis now and later.
His signing would displace the struggling Dexter Fowler in right field, though it won’t make the $50 million owed Fowler disappear. That’s OK – Fowler could assume a reserve role, reboot his career and take a crack at a starting job in 2020, when Marcell Ozuna likely departs in free agency.
In the meantime, a Harper-Harrison Bader-Ozuna outfield gives the Cardinals a nice balance of power and defense. Ozuna hit 37 homers for the 2017 Miami Marlins, but managed just 23 and a .758 OPS in 2018, due in large part to a right shoulder that required a “cleanup” surgery last month.
Assuming Ozuna is healthy, a Matt Carpenter-Ozuna-Harper pairing near the top of the lineup would be punishing. Harper’s presence and Carpenter’s versatility means the club could deploy young sluggers Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill in creative platoons – or deal one of them for depth elsewhere.
Above all, they’d be buying Harper’s lifetime .388 on-base percentage and .900 OPS, sticking it in the middle of the lineup for the next decade-plus and working out the details later.
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