Could there be a late entrant into the Bryce Harper sweepstakes? It sounds as if that may be the case, as NJ.com’s Randy Miller reported Wednesday morning that the Giants are expected to meet with the free-agent outfielder. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman and NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic, an initial meeting has already taken place:
I’m hearing from a source that San Francisco #Giants are making a late play to sign Bryce Harper. https://t.co/mP2z6ZSzoc— Randy Miller (@RandyJMiller) February 6, 2019
The #SFGiants recently met with Bryce Harper. Extent of interest on team’s part not known, but they did try hard for Stanton last winter. Multiple new teams emerged in last week or two.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 6, 2019
Per source, Giants met with Bryce Harper this week. It's believed meeting included Larry Baer, Farhan Zaidi and Bruce Bochy.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) February 6, 2019
For many of the clubs that have been mentioned as suitors for Harper this offseason, there’s a decent argument to be made that Harper wouldn’t provide that massive of an upgrade — at least not enough for it to be worth them signing him to the largest contract in major-league history. That’s not the case whatsoever for the Giants, who are actually pretty solid on the infield and from a pitching standpoint but are severely lacking in the outfield. To put things in perspective, their most experienced outfielder is Austin Slater, a grizzled veteran of 352 major-league plate appearances. Their other outfield options include Mac Williamson, Chris Shaw, Steven Duggar, and Rule 5 pick Drew Ferguson. Utility player Alen Hanson also is capable of filling in at the corner spots but is far more comfortable in the infield.
There’s a decent argument to be made that Harper’s greatest skill, his power, would be negated somewhat by the expansive right field at newly-renamed Oracle Park, and seeing as he was the second-worst defensive player in baseball judging by dWAR in 2018 (-3.2), he may be exposed in the field. But he’d be a big-name player on a big-market team that is in need of some star power, and with no surefire outfield prospects on the horizon, he’d provide some much-needed stability to a Giants outfield that — with the exception of Hunter Pence’s six-plus year stint in the Bay Area — has basically been a turnstile since Barry Bonds departed after the 2007 season. And with new Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi placing such an emphasis on high-OBP players, Harper — he of the .388 career on-base percentage and .393 OBP in 2018 — seems like a guy he’d target.
With the Dodgers having reduced their once-unmatched depth quite a bit this offseason and no other NL West club having made much of an effort to improve, Harper’s potential signing in San Francisco (or San Diego, for that matter) seems like a move that would shake up the mix a bit in the division. For that reason, it’d seem logical for the Giants to exceed the luxury-tax threshold if it means they’re able to add Harper, especially since they reset their penalties last season and are probably going to need to become competitive again sooner than later in order to maintain their spectacular attendance.