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Should the D-backs sign Bryce Harper?

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Or should they have gone after Manny Machado?

Washington Nationals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Padres made arguably the biggest splash in the history of baseball yesterday, signing Manny Machado to a ten-year, $300 million contract. Though less than the $325 million for which Giancarlo Stanton signed, that was for THREE more years. It’s a cool twenty-five million more than the previous 10-year record holder. It had been the re-negotiated deal Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees, covering the years 2008-17 for $275 million. How long the new record will last, it’s hard to say, with Bryce Harper still circling menacingly overhead: it could be surpassed in only a couple of days. or it could last until the 2020-21 off-season, when Mike Trout hits the market.

Jack had an interesting chart on whether a $300 million deal would prove worthwhile in Sunday’s round table, but I’ll insert it again here. It was in reference to Machado, but it’s basically the same for Harper.

If this pattern of both production and the price of WAR is followed, this suggests it’ll end up being reasonable enough for the Padres. As with most such things, the team will get great value in the early years, then be paying over the odds at the end of the contract. Of course, we’ve seen this kind of splurge before from San Diego. Remember the 2014-15 winter, where the Padres took delivery of James Shields, Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel, then promptly won three fewer games than the previous season? Considering they finished 25.5 games back last year, it’s safe to say the move narrows the gap, but alone may not even be enough to give them their first .500 season since 2010.

Could the D-backs have afforded this kind of contract - whether for Machado or Harper? This year, the answer is probably a cautious yes - but 2020 could be problematic. The question of how much money the team CAN spend is always going to be the subject of speculation, since we have no access to the books. However, using the figures from Baseball Reference, the Diamondbacks’ current expected payroll this season is $116.7 million. They ended 2018 with a salary bill of about $140 million, up from an Opening Day figure of $131.5 million, so there has definitely been some trimming. A $20 million deal for Branny Macharper would bring us slightly above the figure going into 2018.

However, next year would be rather more problematic. There are no big free-agent contracts coming off the books. The largest is Alex Avila’s $4.25 million, and that’s more than eaten up alone by the guaranteed raises to Yasmany Tomas, Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar. Then there’s also a slew of arbitration eligible players, led by David Peralta and Robbie Ray. Right now, B-R.com estimates the payroll for everyone who will already be under contract for 2020 at a whopping $153.9 million, presuming the Wilmer Flores option is exercised. Adding another $20-25 million on top of that for Macharper? Insert Steve Coogan face meme here.

After 2020, however, the commitments start to drop off rapidly. Peralta, Ray and Tomas come off the books at the end of that year, with Taijuan Walker, Jake Lamb and Steven Souza also becoming free agents. Maybe [and I freely admit, it’s entirely a combination of speculation and wish-fulfillment] this is why the team is not apparently looking for a long-term solution in center field? For the D-backs would appear to be in a solid position to go after Trout during the 2020-21 off-season, with a lot of payroll flexibility - the estimated salary total for 2021 being back down to $113.7 million. Of course, I’m sure 28 other teams (I’m thinking probably not the Padres...) will be similarly inclined.

There are other possibilities as well. That free-agent class will be arguably as epic as this one, with not just Trout, but Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom, J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer potentially hitting the market, among others. If I was Mike Hazen, that might be the time I’d be looking at inking some deals. Perhaps related, the current CBA expires at the end of the 2021 season, potentially making the following off-season fractious in terms of player contracts. Though Machado getting a new record contract - from the Padres, of all people - makes it a lot harder for the union to claim there’s a problem with the system, even if it took a while.

There’s another factor which does mean the signing of Machado now makes more sense for San Diego than Arizona. The Padres are generally agreed to have the best farm system in baseball currently, and a good slab of that talent is ready to help them immediately. This season should see the likes of Chris Paddack and Luis Urias hit the majors - not to mention Fernando Tatis Jr., listed by MLB Pipeline as the best prospect in the entire National League. That’s three of the top 34 prospects across all of baseball, according to the MLB Pipeline list, who’ll be playing alongside Machado in San Diego this summer - and for the foreseeable future as well.

While the Arizona farm system is hugely improved over what it was, a lot of the talent in it is still some way from the majors. Similarly, the slew of early draft picks the D-backs will have in June is very nice, but won’t do anything to help the team over the next couple of seasons. Those are the years where Macharper would probably provide most surplus value to the team, and where he’s most likely to make a difference. In terms of overall projections, right now, he probably moves the team from mid-70’s to about a .500 team, this year and perhaps next as well. While you could argue something similar for the Padres in 2019, their upside is much higher and closer than the current D-backs.

Overall, I’m fine with the team passing on both men. They don’t really fit positions of need for the Arizona Diamondbacks and, let’s be honest, I’d find it significantly harder to root for a D-backs team featuring either player. I’m happy to wait for two years, and the signing of Mike Trout and Jacob deGrom.

Hey, if we can’t dream in spring training, when CAN we dream?