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1,000 Words: Should the San Francisco Giants splurge on Bryce Harper?

Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper is a big-ticket free agent. Should the Giants sign him? (Handout)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* MANNY MACHADO GOT HIS money, and Bryce Harper is about to get some big coin, too. But should it come from the San Francisco Giants? At this point last year, I wrote San Francisco’s offseason would be a “failure” if it ended with the additions of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. I argued the Giants should add Lorenzo Cain, something they failed to do. The Brewers signed Cain instead, and he posted a 6.9-WAR season and placed seventh in the MVP vote. The Brewers, meanwhile, shocked everybody by falling just one win short of the World Series. The Giants didn’t listen to me last season. They should listen to me this time. They shouldn’t add Harper.

* YES, HARPER IS A TALENTED player with a gigantic ceiling (he had a 10-win season in 2015 and was on pace for a seven-win season in 2017 before slipping on a wet base). But he’s not a fit for the Giants for a couple of reasons. For starters, San Francisco isn’t anywhere near competing for a playoff spot. FanGraphs has the Giants projected for 76 wins in 2019, the second fewest in the NL. Even in the best-case scenario, a 10-win season from Harper, San Francisco isn’t hitting 90 wins and making the playoffs. Same applies to next season. This isn’t a team one great player away from reaching the postseason. It’s three of four players away.

* YOU COULD SAY THE SAME thing about the Padres, which just gave Machado $300 million over 10 seasons. The Padres just had a 66-96 record, but they have the MLB’s best farm system, which means an influx of cheap and productive players entering the bigs over the next five seasons. They could afford to splurge on a star like Machado because they will have a surplus of pre-arbitration players to support him at a cut-rate price. The Giants don’t have that luxury. Per ESPN’s minor-league rankings, the Giants have the 26th-best farm system (out of 30 teams). San Francisco isn’t a team on the ascent that can add a player like Harper banking on a supporting cast being good enough to win in two or three years.

* THE THIRD CONCERN IS MONEY. I can’t see Harper signing for less than the $300 million Machado got. He’s worth that based on future value projections (as far as any baseball player not named Mike Trout is worth that much). But, giving Harper $30 million to $35 million a year isn’t wise given the Giants’ future contract situation. The team already has Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford signed to big-money deals through 2021. Toss in Harper’s projected $35 million annually and that core would cost the Giants $130 million every year from 2019-21 (with 19 more roster spots to fill). It just doesn’t make sense to sink that much money into those six players for the next three seasons (and Cueto, Posey and Longoria are locked up through 2022 when each will be 35-plus years old).

* THE LAST ISSUE IS HARPER’S defense, which was really bad, per the advanced metrics last season. I’m not sold on defensive metrics quite yet, but Harper’s weren’t good during his age-25 season, and the Giants have a gigantic outfield. If he’s a bad defender in his prime, how’s he going to look in the back-half of a 10-year contract? The DH might be added to the NL before Harper’s contract ends, but there’s no guarantee that happens, and it’s highly unlikely Harper is able to stay in the outfield through the end of his contract. For some teams, signing Harper makes perfect sense. The Phillies are a good example. They’re in a winning window, have cheap young talent, have future payroll flexibility and play in a smaller ballpark where defensive issues can be hidden better. The Giants don’t have any of those luxuries. They’re not a fit for Harper.

* SO WHERE DO THE GIANTS turn? Honestly, I don’t know. They have a bad farm system, a bad (and old) MLB roster and a bad future contract situation. They’re most tradable players – Madison Bumgarner and Posey – are legends who you can’t really trade without upsetting the fan base. Plus, those two have minimal trade value because Bumgarner is on the last year of his contract and Posey is an aging catcher with a lot of money left on his deal. The Giants probably need to tank to replenish the farm system, but you don’t want to do that to a fan base that has supported the team well over the last decade, and it'd be a four- to five-year rebuild. New Giants baseball czar Farhan Zaidi inherited a tough situation, but the solution isn’t to add Bryce Harper.

* DUKE STAR ZION WILLIAMSON blew out his shoe in the first 45 seconds of the Blue Devils’ showdown with North Carolina this week, suffering a minor knee sprain. Some are saying he should sit out the season so he doesn’t risk his NBA future (he’s going to be the No. 1 draft pick barring a catastrophic injury). I wouldn’t blame him if he did that, but he shouldn’t be forced into that situation. He should be getting paid to play college ball if the NBA mandates he must spend a year in college before being draft eligible. People were paying up to $3,300 per ticket for that Duke-UNC game. They were paying that to see Williamson. But he was getting none of that money. It’s a joke, and if it leads to him sitting the rest of the season, I’d understand.

* NEVADA FOOTBALL GOT SOME good news this week when starting middle linebacker Gabe Sewell said he was returning to school for his senior season rather than transferring. That comes after the news that Lucas Weber was granted a sixth year of eligibility. If neither of those things broke Nevada's way, the Wolf Pack would have lost its top seven tacklers from 2018, which would have been devastating. At least Nevada returns two of the top seven with the return of Sewell and Weber. With a new starting quarterback next season, the Wolf Pack needs its defense to sustain what we saw this last season when it was above average nationally. It will be a lot easier to do so with Sewell and Weber than without them.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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