At the end of the 2018 season, two superstars will hit the open market in search of record-breaking contracts: Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Dodgers infielder Manny Machado. Each comes with his own tremendous upside, while at the same time owning risks and weaknesses in gameplay.
It would be hard to argue against either being anything but a top-tier talent worthy of one of the most expensive contracts in baseball history. Barring sudden extensions, each is likely to sign his next contract at the age of 26, and each has accomplished historic feats to date. Their career fWAR totals are both nearly identical; Machado has accrued 29.7 since debuting in 2012, while Harper has 30.3 over a very similar time frame. Such a high fWAR total at an incredibly young age sets each on a great start towards a Hall of Fame career, but the two young phenoms have gotten there in vastly different ways.
Machado’s value has come from tremendous performances both offensively and defensively. While the infielder has received questionable reviews as a shortstop this season, he’d been an incredible defensive asset at third base for his entire career prior to that. The wunderkind topped out at a tremendous 35 defensive runs saved during his first full MLB season back in 2013, and has accrued 84 DRS there across nearly 6,500 innings to date.
Meanwhile, the former Oriole has put up an above-average offensive season by measure of wRC+ in every full season of his career to date. And in spite of an aberration that was the 2017 season, Machado’s offensive performances on the whole have been tremendous. And even amidst that unfortunate (and temporary) dip in stock, he’s slugged at least 33 homers in each of the past four seasons en route to hitting free agency in six weeks. He’s dynamic as well, having swiped 14 bags this season and boasting experience at two different infield positions.
Harper, on the other hand, is a bit more of a pure offensive talent. And while Fangraphs has saddled him with a below-average defensive rating in every season since his rookie year, he’s more than made up for that with his bat. After entering the majors as a teenager, Harper has put up a .279/.387/.513 career batting line with 184 long balls across 3,900 trips to the plate. That’s obviously not a common performance for a player who’s still just a quarter century in age.
The biggest knock on the one-time prodigy has been his lack of consistency. While Harper’s hot streaks are blistering and some of the most dangerous in baseball, his slumps have been prolonged and miserable. For further evidence of this issue, one need look no further than Harper’s MVP season in 2015: while he accrued an otherworldly 9.3 fWAR during that season, he regressed to a 3-win campaign in 2016 and hasn’t come close to that level since. And yet, one can hardly argue that the incredible potential doesn’t still remain in his bat, particularly considering he’s not yet reached the prime age of his baseball career.
There are a variety of factors that could still change prior to these players hitting the open market. But as it stands, it doesn’t seem a stretch to think that most of the market’s driving factors are already in place at this time. Keeping with that thought, which player do you think will earn a bigger free agent payday this offseason? (Poll link for app users)