Sunday, July 3, 2022

Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are playing at MVP levels and making their hefty contracts look good

The Phillies and Padres are squaring off in Philadelphia this week. Both teams entered the season with playoff aspirations and the Padres, to this point, have played like one of the best teams in baseball. Let’s skip past the team-level stuff for now and concentrate on the two biggest names in the series, as they are forever tied to one another: Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

It is unfortunate that Harper is dealing with a UCL injury, but he just got a PRP injection in his elbow and will likely be back within the next few days. Still, this is as fine a time as any to check in to the pair of superstars. 

You know how in today’s Internet world, someone will say “that aged well” and it’s usually in sarcastic mockery? Example: “That Chris Davis contract aged well!” (Did you know it actually ran through 2022? With him set to make $23 million this season? But instead he retired and left that money on the table??)

In the cases of Machado and Harper, their deals with the Padres and Phillies, respectively, actually have aged well. So far, incredibly well. 

It was the offseason after 2018, leading to the 2019 season. Both superstars were hitting free agency at abnormally young ages due to how early they debuted in the majors. Both Harper’s and Machado’s free-agency periods went well past the Winter Meetings. They went into the new year. Then into spring training. 

Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million with the Padres that became official Feb. 21. Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies that wasn’t official until March 2. 

It’s Year 4 of the deal for each and the deals, to reiterate, have been amazing value. 

Machado helped drive the group known as Slam Diego in 2020, as the Padres made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. He finished third in NL MVP voting that season. He made his fifth All-Star team last season and posted his best WAR since 2016. 

Harper’s teammates haven’t fully cooperated, but given that this baseball and not, say, basketball, there’s only so much one player can do. Harper is doing plenty. He won the NL MVP in 2021, leading the majors in doubles, slugging, OPS and OPS+. He has a better career slash line with the Phillies than Nationals

And while there are certainly other contenders, it’s plausible that if an NL MVP vote were held right now, Machado and Harper would finish 1-2. Here’s why:

  • Harper either leads the league or is tied for the lead in doubles, home runs, slugging percentage, extra-base hits and total bases. He’s second in OPS, runs and OPS+.
  • Machado leads the NL in hits, average, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+, times on base and WAR. He’s third in total bases and runs scored, and he’s fourth in slugging. 
  • Both are within striking range of the RBI lead. Both have six stolen bases. 
  • Both are still just 29 years old, too. I told you, these deals are aging really well. 

As noted, the two are forever connected. 

They each debuted in the Beltway in 2012. Harper helped ignite the first-ever Nationals playoff team and won NL Rookie of the Year. Machado debuted later in the season for the Orioles and was an instant sensation for their first playoff team since 1997. They grew into superstars in the same region, playing for multiple playoff teams each. They hit free agency together and both signed $300 million contracts. And now, in the fourth year of those megadeals, they are among the best players in baseball. 

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