This is one entry in a five-part series about where Bryce Harper will land as a free agent after the 2018 season.
Of all the potential teams to land the superstar outfielder when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season, the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t being discussed enough. It wouldn’t be the sexiest of storylines — compared to the possibility of a heel turn by joining the Yankees or a press conference in D.C. where he says “I’m a National for life” — but it makes a lot of sense, especially if St. Louis misses the playoffs for a third consecutive year in 2018.
St. Louis is one of the few true “baseball towns,” and Busch Stadium had the second-highest average attendance in MLB last year, only trailing the L.A. Dodgers. I bet if you actually counted butts in the seats, the Cardinals would be No. 1. That’s not a knock to Dodgers fans; I’ve just heard that traffic getting to Chavez Ravine can be brutal.
I’ve covered the Nationals for a few years now, and I’ve heard Bryce talk after a bunch of home games where he puts on late-game heroics — he gives the crowd credit when the team wins in thrilling fashion. Imagine what it would sound like at Busch Stadium if he clubs a bomb in the bottom of the ninth to give the Cardinals a huge divisional win over the Cubs?
I don’t think Harper would create any sort of “too many cooks” scenario in the Cardinals’ lineup: They have a plethora of great hitters without the luxury of the DH. Tommy Pham is solid, but Randal Grichuk hit just .238 and there were internet rumors about his name being floated for a trade involving Giancarlo Stanton a few weeks ago.
Whether that’s true or not, Harper could take over as the everyday right fielder and can hit in either the 3 or 4 spot in the lineup where he’d drive in Pham and leadoff man Matt Carpenter. And it’s not like he’d be competing to be “the guy” — that position is currently is held by 35-year-old Yadier Molina, who’s in the twilight of his illustrious career.
Busch Stadium isn’t exactly Coors Field (Busch ranked 24th out of 30 in home run rate per game this year), but Harper would get an opportunity to hit in more friendly parks in his division, such as the Great American Small Park in Cincinnati and Miller Park in Milwaukee. Wrigley Field is more in the middle, but I think Bryce would relish the idea of boos reigning down on him as he steps to the plate.
When it’s all said and done, though, it’s about money, and the Cardinals certainly are willing to spend — they’ll enter the 2018 season with the sixth-highest payroll. Before the start of the 2017 season, Forbes ranked the franchise seventh in valuation, at $1.8 billion. If St. Louis is willing to spend the massive bucks, then Harper can become the next face of the Cardinals franchise.
The case for the…
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