Is Bryce Harper a winner? Baseball execs can't agree, and it could be affecting his free agent market

LAS VEGAS -- As expected, much of the buzz in the lobbies, hallways and bars in Mandalay Bay for the winter meetings has revolved around the free agency of young superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

For years, we gazed at Harper's coming free agency, envisioning a bidding spree that would net him $500 million. All the megamarket teams would be in on him, right? The Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox and surely the Nationals would do anything to retain him. 

Instead, the Nationals seem content to leave their 10-year, $300 million offer on the table. They haven't ruled out bringing him back publicly, but it sounds like they've already said their goodbyes. The Yankees view their outfield as being full and won't move Harper to first base. On Monday, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he was surprised people were even still asking him about Harper. The Red Sox have no need and, in fact, are looking to trim payroll. Unless the Cubs are playing possum in a major way, they reportedly need to clear money in order to jump into the sweepstakes. 

The Phillies seem to be in, though signing Andrew McCutchen gives off the appearance they are more serious about Machado. The White Sox are definitely in and the Dodgers seem to be lying in the weeds here. 

Still, Harper doesn't seem to be getting nearly as much run as we thought he would for years. Some of it has to be due to Harper's inconsistency. His career line is very good, with a 139 OPS+ and a 162-game average of 5.0 WAR. In looking at his numbers by year, though, he was only exceptional for an entire, healthy season in 2015. Last year, he was brutal in the first half before a very good second half. He had an extended spell in 2016 where he couldn't hit for average. 

There's also this: A somewhat puzzling sentiment that continues to be bandied about is that some camps simply view Bryce Harper as a player who isn't a winner. 

Many also firmly disagree with this notion. 

We've been hearing it for years, and sure enough, Tuesday an American League executive told CBS Sports something similar to the "not a winner" narrative. I didn't even ask if he was a winner. The opinion that wherever Harper signs, he won't win anything of significance on a team level was volunteered. 

I then turned to a former GM who profusely disagreed with the notion that Harper can't win. 

It's fitting, right? Harper has long been a divisive player, so of course there's a divisive feeling on his free agency. 

Let's examine the two sides. 

Not a winner

The easiest starting point here is that Harper has spent seven seasons with the Nationals, they've had tons of talent and still have never gotten out of the divisional round in the playoffs. He won an MVP, but it was in a season that his team missed the playoffs and, if we're being honest, you could make a case the Nationals should have won the NL East all seven of Harper's seasons. The times they missed the playoffs, they were among the most disappointing teams in baseball, as was the case in 2018. 

Harper is a career .211/.315/.487 hitter in the playoffs, compared to .279/.388/.512 in the regular season. 

For the people who believe that true winners help their teams win rings, Harper has been a failure in this department for seven years. 

Winner

How could a player who isn't a winner be one of the centerpieces of a franchise that has won its division four out of the last seven years? Before Harper arrived, the Nationals had never made the playoffs. Looping in the Expos history, the franchise hadn't been to the postseason since 1981. Even if we eliminate 1994 from the conversation, that was 28 years without a playoff berth before Harper and four out of seven with him. 

Also, the notion that one player can be such a difference-maker in baseball like it's basketball has long annoyed me. A player can only bat once every nine times and field balls that happen to be hit in his direction. There's only so much one guy can do. 

Take the 2014 NLDS loss to the Giants. The Nats hit .164/.222/.258 while Harper hit .294/.368/.882. They scored nine runs. Harper scored five times and drove home four. They hit four home runs; Harper had three of them. Are we really going to say they lost that series because Harper wasn't a winner? He was one of two offensive players -- along with Anthony Rendon -- who even showed up. 

As the former GM hypothetically asked me, are we honestly going to say Mike Trout isn't a winner because his teammates constantly fail him? 

Some actually would and it's laughable, but that's just how sports opinions go, especially when we're talking about a player as divisive as Bryce Harper. Some definitely want him on their team. Some seem to loathe the idea. 

It's at least enough to wonder if Harper's market is being depressed a little bit when we continue to hear whispers about how he's not a winning player. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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