There had been plenty of indications that the Los Angeles Dodgers were planning on being major players in the 2018-19 free-agent market. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman had even lobbed some wit to L.A. Times reporter Andy McCullough back in December 2017 about this current class.
“Oh, I hadn’t noticed,” Friedman said jokingly. “Is there a big free-agent class next winter?”
Friedman, no doubt, was referring to two superstar bats seeking lucrative, long-term contracts: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Both are 26 years old and both have plenty of upside. Friedman seemed to sit out the free-agent market last year and avoiding stiff luxury-tax penalties so he can make a play for Harper or Machado this winter. With the deep pockets of the Guggenheim Group, it seemed like a given that an elite free agent would be wearing Dodger Blue.
But are the Dodgers real contenders for either one?
In some ways, it seems like a no-brainer that the Dodgers would have a preference for Machado. They’ve seen him up close after a half-season in L.A. and he provides a big right-handed bat to a lineup that includes left-handed hitters Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Corey Seager. Machado can also thrive on the left side of the field, which is of growing importance considering the Dodgers might move Seager from shortstop after surgery on his elbow.
But Machado wasn’t exactly the epitome of maturity in his brief stint with Los Angeles and his numbers weren’t particularly impactful.
Harper is often judged more for his number than anything else. The former MVP is capable of posting monster stats like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, which the Dodgers could use in the middle of the order. Harper would also fit right in at right field should the Dodgers part ways with Yasiel Puig, which seems to be where Friedman is leaning.
But Harper has had down years. In 2016, he hit just .243 with 24 home runs, which isn’t exactly the type of production the Dodgers would expect for making one of their biggest free-agent splashes. Harper is also coming off a rather down season, hitting just .249 and striking out a career-worst 169 times. Also, like Machado, he has a brash attitude that can turn off a lot of fans and teammates.
Then there’s the price tag. Both Machado and Harper are looking at huge deals in the neighborhood of $300 million. Teams often have buyer’s remorse when they drop huge money on one player. The team down the 5 freeway signed Albert Pujols in December 2011 to a 10-year deal worth around $254 million and the Angels have zero postseason wins to show for it.
MLB insider Jon Heyman doesn’t seem bullish on the Dodgers chances of signing either slugger.
On Thursday, Heyman wrote: “There was that Los Angeles report (link) that the Dodgers’ move to get below the luxury tax may not have been a one-time deal and that they may actually try to maintain a reasonable payroll another half decade, and if that’s the case, its hard to see either one of these players fitting. Odds to sign one: 30-1.”
It’s possible Friedman makes a move for Harper, but Machado’s days in Los Angeles seem over. Don’t be surprised if the Dodgers emphasize pitching this winter and trade for a solid bat instead.
Updated odds for which team Bryce Harper will be on for the first game of 2019 (@BovadaOfficial):
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) October 4, 2018