Padres officials are set to meet with free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper in the coming days, per a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal on Thursday morning:
Harper and/or his agent, Scott Boras, have met with a number of clubs in recent days, including second and third meetings in some cases, sources say. No indication a deal is close. https://t.co/LQgI9jceJD— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 31, 2019
It’s difficult to know how much we should take away from this nugget of info, as free agents — particularly guys like Harper who are the biggest names on the market — tend to go back and forth with a variety of different clubs, and some meetings are of very little importance. Think about it from Harper’s perspective: If a team, even one that has been as woeful over the past decade-plus as the Padres have, is willing to travel to visit you and entertain the idea of offering you a $300-million deal, you might as well listen. With as much as the Phillies and Nationals have been discussed as frontrunners for the 26-year-old outfielder to this point, it’d be quite surprising to see another club to emerge out of nowhere to end up signing up.
As much as the Padres need to get going after missing the playoffs for 12 straight seasons, Harper doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong fit, anyway. The argument for a lot of clubs pursuing Harper has been, “If you have a very good 26-year-old outfielder on the market, why wouldn’t you go after him?” Arguably the Padres’ greatest area of strength is their young corner-outfield depth, though, and it’s difficult to know whether Harper would be enough of an upgrade over the in-house options to justify the contract he’d command. While Harper’s potential to return to the level of production he displayed during his 2015 MVP campaign, during which he posted a 1.109 OPS with 42 homers, must be considered, several of San Diego’s internal options actually were more productive than him in most areas last season.
Harper had a .249/.393/.496 slash line with 34 homers and a 133 OPS+ in 695 plate appearances, along with -26 defensive runs saved and a 1.3 Baseball Reference WAR. Meanwhile, 23-year-old rookie Franmil Reyes hit .280/.340/.498 with 16 homers and a 130 OPS+ in 285 PAs, collecting -1 DRS and a 1.6 bWAR. 27-year-old Hunter Renfroe was essentially Harper without the walks (which, admittedly, makes him a substantially less-imposing hitter), slashing .248/.302/.504 with 26 homers and a 119 OPS+ in 441 PAs, but he was much better in the field, collecting five defensive runs saved while posting a 2.4 bWAR. And 28-year-old Wil Myers, who was viewed as the face and most important core piece of this rebuilding Padres club in the not-too-distant past, would likely become a utility guy or a cheap trade candidate if a Harper move was completed, as he was already bumped from the outfield mix late in 2018 and shifted to third base — a position at which he struggled — while posting a .253/.318/.446 slash line with 11 homers and a 109 OPS+ over 343 PAs.
With that said, the Padres haven’t had a position player who really carries that legitimate “star” profile since Tony Gwynn retired (Eric Hosmer helped carry a team to two straight World Series, but is by no means the household name that Harper is), and with them now having a huge opportunity to captivate the San Diego market following the Chargers’ departure, it makes total sense for them to consider signing either Harper or Manny Machado. Until we hear otherwise, it seems like we should consider this development more of a due dilligence thing than anything, but it’s an interesting storyline to follow as we wait for something exciting to happen this offseason.