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The Dodgers met with Bryce Harper

There’s only one reason why.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not looking good here for the ol’ Giants. Just when it looked like the implacable Dodgers would lay down their arms (talking about money here) to pursue stupid sexy dividends for team investors, we learned late Sunday night that team president Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts had left Spring Training in Arizona to meet with the enBorased Bryce Harper in Las Vegas, effectively lowering the Giants chances of signing the right fielder from 0.2% to 0%. Gaaaaaaaah.

Come on, Dodgers. You don’t need to show off your thick money clip to impress free agents — you’re in LA. Beaches, celebs, and uh... jacarandas? Let us have this moment. This teeny, tiny moment where we’re allowed to pretend the Giants will be something better than dull and bad in 2019. That last surge of endorphins before the cold reality of death a rebuild claims our souls. That last meeting with Harper will be the closest we get to an All-Star player for the next several years! Several! You will be crapping them out and discarding like they’re nothing! So, why must you ruin the best part of the Giants’ offseason? Obviously, you guys have a great shot at landing him...

That doesn’t actually sound like the Dodgers are confident they can land him. So, why say it? Is this a reverse jinx situation? Dave Roberts says it’s not going to happen just to create that contra-energy in the universe to make it happen? Oh, buddy, you are messing with some powerful forces. Reverse jinxes totally work, but it’s a power that’s not for mature people. Yes, it’s something that only works in the silly confines of fandom. Dave Roberts is a serious and mature person, he would never, ever think of reverse jinxing a situation to improve his chances.

So, if they’re not confident, why try this? It really can’t be to tank the Giants’ good feelings about landing Harper because 1) again, no mega free agent wants to hit in San Francisco 2) the Dodgers would never be so immature as to stoop to troll the Giants — that’d be acknowledging the rivalry, and LA’s greatest strength in the rivalry has been trolling with indifference, and 3) the Giants just aren’t going to offer Harper the huge contract he wants.

But will the Dodgers offer Harper $300+ million? No! As Joel Sherman noted in the New York Post today:

[The Dodgers] have had a policy under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman to avoid mega-long-term deals [...]

What the Dodgers are willing to do is make Harper the annual value champion, so at least $35 million a year, perhaps closer to $40 million, but only for three or four seasons — perhaps five years to get a deal done. So to just give a guesstimated total, $150 million.

That offer seems like it’d be only slightly less insulting to Harper’s camp than hearing someone use the word “guesstimated”, but only slightly. Do I put it past Andrew Friedman to offer a deal like that? Absolutely not. If you ever get around to reading The Extra 2%, he views baseball transactions as financial transactions. It’s all about arbitrage. Does this definition sound familiar?

Arbitrage is the simultaneous purchase and sale of an asset to profit from an imbalance in the price. It is a trade that profits by exploiting the price differences of identical or similar financial instruments on different markets or in different forms. Arbitrage exists as a result of market inefficiencies and would therefore not exist if all markets were perfectly efficient.

“Sale” is another word for “exploit” and to make it all sound less hostile, we’re talking about purchasing Harper to “sell” as a player, either with value on the field or at the box office. If the Dodgers can’t get Harper for a price that gives them more when they exploit his services, then they won’t do the deal. So, why are they interested in him at all?

Obviously, Harper’s availability at this juncture suggests that

  1. No team has met his asking price; therefore,
  2. He might have adjusted his asking price
  3. He really doesn’t want to live in Philadelphia

— and any of these scenarios present a clear opportunity for a team that jettisoned two power-hitting outfielders this offseason. But why didn’t they pursue him after they moved Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig?

The Dodgers don’t really want Bryce Harper. They just want to make up for all the interest and wins they’re about to lose in the wake of Clayton Kershaw’s health problems.

That’s right! This is all one big marketing ploy. The Dodgers traded well-regarded Matt Kemp (that great first half of last season drew in some lost appreciation) and fan-favorite Yasiel Puig (seriously, the fans here love him) after losing the World Series for the second straight year, leaving Clayton Kershaw as the big face of the franchise. And now they’re likely to lose him for a good portion of the season.

If you didn’t know, he was “sent home” four days ago after not feeling great during a throwing session. Early today we got this report —

That’s, uh... that’s bad. At least, it’s certainly not great. At this point in Spring Training, pitchers still aren’t close to a full throwing routine, and four days ago, it wasn’t like he was throwing 60 pitches in a simulated game. He was just throwing on the side. And it hasn’t gotten any better. Since throwing 232.2 innings back in 2015, Kershaw’s innings totals have plummeted due to a variety of injuries, though most relating to a bad back. He pitched 149 in 2016, 175 in 2017, and 161.1 last season. The Dodgers have been good about managing his health and “workload”, but pitchers don’t last forever. Will Kershaw even throw as many innings this year as he did last year?

In the meantime, the Dodgers might be trying to stave off that post-success cycle that hits all teams. They didn’t win the World Series in their two trips, and for most teams, once you do the back-to-back thing, it’s kinda all downhill from there. But the Dodgers are SMART, dammit — they’re gonna figure this out, right? If they lose Kershaw, they’ll still have Bellinger, Turner, Walker Buehler, Kenley Jansen, A.J. Pollock, and Cory Seager, not to mention Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Joe Kelly, and four prospects in MLB Pipeline’s top 100, but adding Bryce Harper refreshes the marquee and adds a jolt to a waning body.

It also really sets up the Giants to be even worse than their projections, a situation I think you’d agree would, ultimately, be suboptimal. Would a Bryce Harper-led Dodgers mean that every Giants-Dodgers series over the next 3-5 years would look like the final series of last season, wherein the Dodgers outscored the Giants 28-7? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.