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The Phillies made the right call with Bryce Harper

A lot of things went wrong in 2019, but one of the things that went right was choosing Harper over Manny Machado.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The decision over whether to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado to a $300 million contract was a hotly debated one this off-season. There were ample reasons to choose either player.

Machado plays third base, a position that was of clear need for the Phillies. Based on previous defensive metrics, Machado was one of the very best defensive third basemen in baseball, and was one of the game’s top young sluggers as well. The negatives were that he, at times, displayed a lack of hustle and has been accused of playing dirty, and there were concerns Machado’s style would clash with what Phils fans wanted to see from their franchise player.

Harper plays right field, a position that was also of need for the Phils. Harper’s ceiling is that of a nine or 10-win player, but he has only had that type of season once in his career. Nevertheless, Harper was the most marketable star in the game and has a ceiling that is hard to beat, offensively. The negatives were that he played terrible defense in 2018, has missed significant chunks of seasons due to injuries, and also had some hustle issues in the past, although not to the extend of Machado.

The Phillies were going to unload $300 million on one of these guys, and we argued about who should get it for months. In the end, choosing Harper was one of the decisions GM Matt Klentak got right.

With four games left to play in the 2019 season, Harper is beating Machado in virtually every measurable category.

In 153 games, Harper has hit .260/.375/.507 with 34 HRs, 109 RBIs, 96 runs and an fWAR of 4.6.

In 152 games, Machado has hit .252/.332/.451 with 30 HRs, 82 RBIs, 79 runs and an fWAR of 2.6.

Harper has a wRC+ of 126, Machado is at 105. According to Fangraphs’ defensive metrics, Harper’s been worth 7 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), while Machado has been worth -1 DRS at shortstop. Certainly that number would be better if he were playing at third base, however.

But it’s more than just the numbers. Even though we live on the east coast and Machado plays on the west coast, have you heard his name mentioned casually in any baseball conversation this year, whether it be in conversations with friends or in the media? Has there been a single signature Machado moment of note this year? Conversely, there have been at least four or five huge moments for Harper in 2019, and he’s clearly brought an intensity and hard-nosed style of play to the city that Philadelphians love.

He really has been the perfect ballplayer for the fanbase. He struggled in the first half of the season and heard his fair share of boos, but Harper gets it. He understood, and persevered and is embraced by the Philly faithful. If one needed any more proof that Philadelphia was now his home, the treatment he received by Nationals fans on Wednesday night really hammered the point home.

Phillies fans, of course, have our own sordid history with Jayson Werth, who left the Phils for a huge contract with the Washington Nationals after the 2010 season and was barraged by some fans every time he set foot back inside Citizens Bank Park.

That said, trying to imagine the 2019 season without Harper is a scary proposition. Much of this season was frustrating, and the few good moments we had, the “funnest” moments of the season, emanated almost entirely from Bryce Harper.

So yeah, the Phillies got the biggest decision of the off-season correct. Great job!

Now, about that pitching staff...

On Episode 322 of Hittin’ Season, I talked to Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Scott Lauber about the disappointing 2019 season, what lies ahead this off-season, and whether the Phillies should pursue Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon. Check it out!