Wow, Bryce Harper is coming to the Cubs?! No. No, he is not.
Imagine someone yelling out in a theater full of teenage girls: “Surprise! One Direction is back and here to perform for you!”
Now you’re starting to get an idea of the reaction from Cubs fans when respected baseball analyst Peter Gammons recently told WSCR-AM, “I have people tell me that Bryce Harper really would prefer to play for the Cubs.’’
Gammons’ next sentence could have been, “I’m growing another head on my right shoulder,’’ and no one in the vast sea of Cubs fans would have heard it. All anyone could process in the moment was that the Nationals star wanted to play for the Cubs and that of course Harper would want to play for the Cubs because who wouldn’t?
You know you’ve arrived as a fan base when you start acting like Yankees fans. You sound like this: (Your superstar here) will become a free agent in a few years, and he’d be a freaking idiot if he didn’t want to join our team! This is the God’s honest truth: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!
The Harper-to-the-Cubs possibility is a wonderful thought, except for the small matter of how to pay both Harper and Cubs star Kris Bryant, who also will be in line for a monster contract when he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season. And, you’re right, if this were the Yankees, they might find a way to have both players on the roster.
But these are the Cubs, who exceeded the luxury tax in 2016 for the first time in franchise history. Even though they are making gobs of money and might be able to afford Bryant, Harper and the reincarnation of the 1927 Yankees, it’s not going to happen. I don’t see the Cubs putting all their eggs in two baskets.
The chatter is that Harper will get a $500 million contract when his current deal expires after next season, when he’ll be 26. That’s a lot of money even by Ricketts family standards. Bryant, while not the movable hot button that Harper is, will be worth a boatload whenever he signs his next contract.
The rest of what Gammons said in The Score interview would have been the airplane dropping water on the forest fire if, you know, anyone had heard it.
“Somehow I don’t think it’s going to be affordable to have Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant on the same team,” he said. “It’s a great idea, I’d love to see it because I respect them both so much, personally and professionally, but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.”
You might have mentioned that first, Peter.
The Yankees are a better landing place for Harper, and not just because of the team’s willingness to open its wallet for marquee players. He loves attention, New Yorkers love anyone who loves their attention and it sounds like a match made in baseball heaven (or back-page hell).
But for any team that wants Harper, there is the small matter of his uneven production. He has had an excellent first two months to this season, hitting .322 with 15 home runs and 45 RBI. In 2015, his National League Most Valuable Player season, he hit .330 with 42 homers and 99 RBI. That’s the great stuff. In his other four seasons, he hit .270, .274, .273 and .243 and didn’t hit more than 24 home runs in any of those years, though injuries sometimes played a role. That’s the average stuff.
I’d love to hear what Cubs president Theo Epstein thinks of Harper and his worth. Baseball executives aren’t allowed to talk about other teams’ players, so we don’t know what he thinks of the bouncing ball that is Harper’s career so far. Would he give someone like Harper (or even Bryant) a 12-year contract, betting on the early to middle years being profoundly good? It wouldn’t be like giving Albert Pujols a 10-year, $240 million contract when he was 31, the way the Angels did in 2012.
To some extent, it could be beside the point.
The question might not be how good Harper is or will be. It might be, does it matter? His fame has surpassed his ability — and he has a ton of ability. Fans pay to watch him play. He fills seats. He’s the face of baseball right now, and if not that, then certainly the hair of baseball.
When he fought Giants reliever Hunter Strickland in late May, he came out the winner, even though the fight looked like a draw. Public sentiment was with the player who had taken a long look at a couple of home run balls he hit off Strickland in the 2014 playoffs, not with the pitcher who remembered those homers three years later and hit Harper with a 98 mph fastball. The clip of the fight got huge airtime because it involved Harper.
People love to watch him, even the people who hate him. He seems to resonate with younger viewers. Before the start of the 2016 season, he called the game “tired’’ because tradition frowned upon hitters celebrating home runs. Lots of people agree.
Wherever he goes, a whirlwind follows. Don’t expect it to settle in Chicago, unless it can pitch too.
A few days after mentioning that Harper would prefer to play for the Cubs, Gammons said that, if he had to guess, Harper would end up signing with the Yankees.
Sure, now he tells us.