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Why the Dodgers should back up the truck to pay Bryce Harper


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What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale says that a third team is making a late push to sign MLB slugger Bryce Harper.
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As recently as late December, when the Dodgers unloaded Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati to clear up room in their crowded outfield, it appeared inevitable that Bryce Harper would wind up in Los Angeles.

But that was before we knew the incredible lengths to which MLB teams would go to avoid spending big money and before the Dodgers inked center fielder A.J. Pollock to a four-year deal. So it came as some surprise that club officials — including manager Dave Roberts — met with Harper over the weekend in Las Vegas, and it proved full-blown delightful when reporters spotted a Brinks truck outside the Dodgers’ spring-training facility on Monday.

Harper is a 26-year-old superstar who fits on just about every team. But even after the addition of Pollock, he still makes a heck of a lot of sense for the Dodgers. The club, which spent over $270 million in payroll as recently as 2015, jockeyed to get under the luxury-tax threshold in 2018. Remember: It’s the compounding penalties for exceeding that threshold in consecutive years, more than the initial penalties, that changed the sport’s economy.

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HARPER TO DODGERS?Decision coming soon

Signing Harper would mean paying the luxury tax this season, undoubtedly, but it would not necessarily doom the Dodgers to do so again next year — if that’s something you care about. The team has tons of money set to come off its books next year when contracts end on guys like Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu. They’ll need to replace them, for sure, but they’ve still got a pretty solid pipeline of talent on the way, and signing Bryce Harper now would mean having Bryce Harper next season, too.

The excellent Dodgers teams of recent seasons have featured extraordinary depth. Adding Harper would not only give the Dodgers by far the longest lineup in the National League, but give Roberts enough viable big-leaguers to ensure all of them regular rest as they gear up for another deep postseason run.

About that: The Los Angeles team has not won the World Series in more than 30 years now. After six straight NL West pennants and back-to-back World Series berths failed to produce a championship, the Dodgers must feel some sense of urgency. Adding Harper means adding the very best player available on the open market this offseason. And because he’s 26, it’s not even just a win-now move.

Right? Throw an extra 35 homers and a .400 OBP somewhere near the top of the Dodgers’ lineup and all of a sudden they look way more poised to capitalize on the waning years of familiar veterans like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Hill. Add a 26-year-old megastar to a young core that already includes Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler and Max Muncy and they look stacked for the future, too.

For Harper, it’d mean a big payday, a big stage, and whatever comfort comes from knowing he’ll see the postseason practically every year. For the Dodgers, it means a big bat, a big splash, and an opportunity to improve the 2019 version of the club without dooming themselves to go over the luxury-tax threshold in 2020 or beyond.

Arguably no team in the majors has done a better job than the Dodgers of maintaining success at the big-league level while keeping their farm system stocked with talent for the future. Signing Harper to the long-term deal he’s seeking helps them now and helps them later.

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