MLB Free Agency Betting: Will Bryce Harper Stay with the Nationals?

by Taylor Smith
on November 9, 2018

Minute Read

The 2018 Major League Baseball season is officially in the rearview mirror, which means it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2019 campaign. Until then, however, we have the rather large matter of sorting through what should be a busy offseason. A number of high-profile players are set to find new teams in the free agency market, while others, like the Seattle Mariners, are reportedly set to blow things up and make some trades. It should be a fascinating winter.

We have already seen a few players sign deals. Clayton Kershaw and David Freese both agreed to contracts to remain with the 2-time defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Mariners have already made one big trade, sending young catcher Mike Zunino to Tampa Bay in exchange for Mallex Smith and a couple of prospects. The biggest names set to hit the free agent market are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Both players are 26, and we don’t often see players this young become free agents in baseball. As a result, you can expect both players to sign lucrative new deals at some point. I don’t think this winter’s free agency will be as lame as last year’s, when a number of players had to wait until just before the season to find new homes.

Where will Harper and Machado land? What about some of the big-name pitchers like Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel? There are betting odds for such things, so let’s try to break it down from a betting angle.

Where Will Bryce Harper Sign?

  • Washington Nationals +150
  • Philadelphia Phillies +300
  • Chicago White Sox +600
  • Chicago Cubs +750
  • New York Yankees +800
  • Los Angeles Dodgers +800

Bryce Harper has reportedly already turned down a 10-year contract offer worth $100 million from the Washington Nationals. That doesn’t mean he can’t ultimately agree to a deal to stay with the only franchise he’s ever known, but it’s interesting that this made its way into the news. Are the Nationals leaking that info as a way of showing their fans that they tried before letting him get a bigger deal elsewhere? Or does Washington have legitimate interest in aggressively pursuing him?

First off, the betting odds on the Nationals are favorable here at +150. Most free agents tend to stick with their incumbent teams, so I really think Washington at +150 is a favorable option from a betting perspective. This is a franchise that has plenty of talent already in the fold, and I’m sure they know their chances of winning a World Series sometime soon are a lot better with Harper on the roster than without him. This is an ownership group that has been willing to shell out big contracts in the past, so I’m now inclined to believe they’re a viable suitor to keep Harper. Betting the Nationals at +150 is the first thing I’d do, especially considering there’s still profit potential here. I could see a scenario where the Nats are minus-money at some point, so jump on this bet while you can.

If Harper is to leave, some seem to think that the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies are the most suitable destination. The Phillies have money to burn considering they’ve been rebuilding for the last handful of years, so they’re one of the teams with deep enough pockets to be able to stomach a massive deal this winter. Whether it goes to Harper, Manny Machado or somebody else remains to be seen. I do think they’ll be in the market for some of the bigger free agents, and Harper is one of ‘em.

Are the Phillies a Harper away from contending? That obviously remains to be seen, but this is a young team with a bright future. The Phils were in the NL East hunt for most of last season before completely cratering in September. Still, we saw enough good things from this team to be optimistic about their chances in the years to come. It might be a bit awkward for Harper to leave DC for a division rival, but I think the Phillies are a viable betting option here at +300. They might be able to offer Bryce a bit more money than the Nats would be willing to, which makes them intriguing, for sure.

These other options are long shots I’m not entirely comfortable recommending. The Dodgers and Yankees are always candidates to spend the big money, but we’ve heard that both have aspirations of staying under the luxury tax line for the second year in a row. Obviously, signing a player as expensive as Harper would take either team well over said threshold. The Cubs have proven that they want to save money. While I thought they were a favorite for Harper earlier in the year, we now see that they aren’t in the market for the big-time free agents. So, write off the Cubs completely at +750. The Dodgers and Yankees are worth a punt at +800 apiece, but nothing more.

The White Sox have been a trendy landing spot for Harper among analysts. Chicago is another team that appears to have a bright future ahead. The team landed a slew of young prospects after trading away stars like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton a couple of  years ago, so it won’t be long before the White Sox are relevant again. Guys like Michael Kopech, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and others have been on “top prospects” lists for years. Adding a player like Harper would put them on the fast track, especially considering the lack of quality in the AL Central.

Like the Phillies, the White Sox certainly have money to spend. I think they’re a viable betting option here at +600. Not the favorite, but they’re in play. I’ll still say the Nats are the odds-on betting favorites, but the Phillies and White Sox make the most sense after Washington, in that order.

Where Will Manny Machado Sign?

  • Philadelphia Phillies +150
  • Los Angeles Dodgers +350
  • New York Yankees +350
  • Atlanta Braves +450
  • Miami Marlins +1000
  • Los Angeles Angels +1100
  • Washington Nationals +2000

You are unlikely to find a more polarizing player on the free agent market this winter than Manny Machado. Machado struggled after moving to shortstop while playing with the Orioles to start the season, but he looked more comfortable at the position after being traded to the Dodgers around the All-Star break. Machado is coming off of the best offensive season of his career. Machado slashed .297/.367/.538 with a career-high 37 home runs and 107 runs batted in. He wasn’t quite as productive at the plate after moving to Los Angeles, but he’s still going to be a prized player on the market.

Machado became something of a villain during the Dodgers’ run to the World Series. The incident that drew the most coverage was his bizarre decision to stamp on the leg of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar while trying to beat out a base hit during the NLCS. The play was clearly intentional, which calls his sportsmanship into question. He may rub some fans the wrong way, but there are plenty of teams out there that will be willing to take a chance on him.

The Phillies are unsurprisingly the favorites. Philadelphia was one of the teams that was reportedly interested in trading for him this past season, but the Dodgers ultimately swooped in and won the sweepstakes. J.P. Crawford and Maikel Franco were the Phils’ primary shortstop and third basemen last season, but neither player looks like an absolute must moving forward. The arrival of Machado could mean the Phillies opt to trade one of them this winter, and both players would presumably net a decent haul on the trade market. I think the Phillies make an awful lot of sense as a betting option here at +150.

Machado posted what sure sounded like a goodbye message to Dodger fans on Instagram last week. The team made it to the World Series again last season thanks in part to his contributions, but with Corey Seager set to come back and occupy the shortstop spot next season, Machado is unlikely to be a priority for L.A. this offseason. Maybe they sign him if his market unexpectedly dries up, but I can’t see it at this point. I’ll pass all day on Machado returning to the Dodgers at +350. I much prefer the Yankees at the same price.

The Yankees have Didi Gregorius installed at shortstop, but the third base situation is less settled. Miguel Andujar’s bat played well there last year, but there are still question marks about whether he can play the position defensively. Andujar’s tremendous rookie season should have upped his trade value, so I could definitely see a scenario in which the Yankees sign Machado and trade Andujar while he’s got some value on the trade market if they’re not convinced about his defense. New York is definitely a viable landing spot for Machado, so I like the betting value we can get on the Yanks at +350.

I do think the Braves (+450) and Angels (+1100) are sneaky suitors. We know the Braves are seeking an upgrade at the hot corner, and Machado would obviously fit the bill. Atlanta also has some money to spend, so don’t sleep on the Braves here. The Angels are trying to do whatever they can to build a winner around Mike Trout, so I expect L.A. to spend some money again this winter. Whether Machado is on their list of targets remains to be seen, but we’ve seen the Halos splash money around in the past. The Angels make for an awesome bet here at +1100.

Where Will Dallas Keuchel Sign?

  • Houston Astros +230
  • Los Angeles Angels +230
  • New York Yankees +230
  • Los Angeles Dodgers +650
  • Philadelphia Phillies +650
  • San Francisco Giants +650

Keuchel has been a mainstay in the Astros’ rotation dating back to the dark days, but it sounds like his days in H-town are coming to a close. Houston has Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole atop the rotation. While they may also lose Charlie Morton, the Astros still have readymade replacements like Josh James, Forrest Whitley, Framber Valdez and Collin McHugh ready and willing. Lance McCullers Jr.’s Tommy John surgery may make a Keuchel return more likely, but I can’t see it. I think you pass on the Astros at +230.

The Yankees would be an interesting fit, mostly because of their beard policy. The Yankees have a policy that doesn’t allow their players to grow beards, but Keuchel’s beard is arguably the most famous in baseball these days. It’s his defining trait. Would he dare shave such a glorious beard for the Yankees? The fit makes sense from a baseball perspective, but I’m not really feeling the Yankees as a good betting option at +230, either.

We’re right back to the Angels. The Halos’ rotation has been depleted by injuries for each of the last several seasons, and, again, they’re trying to win while Trout is in his prime. Keuchel isn’t a modern day fireballer, but his devastating sinker allows him to get by. Pitching in a pitcher-friendly park like Angel Stadium wouldn’t hurt, either. I like the Angels as a potential Keuchel landing spot, so feel free to throw some money down on L.A. at +230.

Of the 3 teams listed at +650 I think the Giants make the most sense. New general manager Farhan Zaidi has said that he doesn’t want to spend a ton of money to try and improve the team, but Keuchel presumably wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg the way Harper or Machado would. San Francisco has plenty of question marks when it comes to the rotation, so Keuchel would make some sense as an option to come in and fortify things. I’d rank the Dodgers and Phillies as massive long shots.

Of the teams listed above, I think the Angels and Giants make for the best bets to sign Keuchel at +230 and +650, respectively.

Where Will Craig Kimbrel Sign?

  • Boston Red Sox +100
  • Atlanta Braves +225
  • Chicago Cubs +500
  • Los Angeles Dodgers +500
  • Philadelphia Phillies +500

Craig Kimbrel had a rocky second half of the season, but he has emerged as arguably the best closer in the game over the last few seasons. He first rose to fame as a member of the Braves before making a brief stop in San Diego. He eventually landed in Boston and helped the Sox to their fourth World Series title since ‘04 last year.

The free agent market for relievers has been quite friendly in recent years. While the inconsistency late in the season may have cost him a few bucks, I would still expect Kimbrel to land himself a lucrative new deal. He’s still only 30, and his 1.91 career ERA speaks for itself. Kimbrel’s previous deal paid him $42 million over the course of 4 years. I would be fairly shocked if he didn’t get a pay raise this offseason.

The Red Sox’ bullpen was a source of concern all season before suddenly becoming a strength during the postseason. Even so, I still think the Sox know they need Kimbrel in there at the end of games. Boston has a young roster, so there’s no reason to expect them to wilt away after winning it all this season. Assuming they’re serious about repeating as champions, they’ll make a run at Kimbrel. I still think there’s decent betting value in the +100 price.

If he leaves I think the most likely scenario is a return to Atlanta. Clearly, the oddsmakers agree. The Braves have under $60 million in committed salaries for next season, so they have plenty of money to spend this winter. The bullpen was shaky for Atlanta in the NLDS against the Dodgers, so I would expect them to be aggressive in the reliever market. Kimbrel is the best arm in the pool, so the Braves make a ton of sense as a landing spot. I love the Braves here at +225, especially because they can likely afford to offer Kimbrel more money than the Red Sox can.

I’m not into the Cubs or Dodgers as realistic landing spots. The Phillies are a fringe contender at +500, though.

These Are the Bets I Would Place:

Bryce Harper Washington Nationals +150

Manny Machado New York Yankees +350

Dallas Keuchel Los Angeles Angels +230

Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves +225

Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, but he’s willing to take one for the team on that front every now and then.

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