Bryce Harper might not want to talk about his impending free agency between now and this fall, but that doesn't mean the topic won't be a major buzz topic throughout the baseball world for the next eight months.
Harper and Manny Machado lead one of the most vaunted free-agent classes in history, one that will also include Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Dallas Keuchel, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, James Dozier, DJ LeMahieu, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Miller, not to mention potential opt-out candidates including Clayton Kershaw, David Price and Elvis Andrus.
We've heard the predictable teams mentioned as possible landing spots for Harper, such as the Cubs and Dodgers, while the Nationals would obviously love to retain their franchise player.
Plenty can happen between now and November, but here's a look at the early contenders (ranked in order of likeliest destination) for the former National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, who doesn't turn 26 until October and will likely be looking for a record-setting deal worth $400 million or more.
While many people expect Harper to move on from the only big league team with which he's ever played, his departure from Washington is far from certain.
Whether the Nationals are willing to dedicate a significant chunk of their payroll to Harper remains to be seen, especially because Max Scherzer will earn roughly $107 million between 2019-21 and Stephen Strasburg is due about $93 million from '19-22. The two pitchers will make nearly $76 million in '19 alone, meaning a salary of $30 million or more would put the Nats on the hook for more than $100 million for three players alone next season.
That said, given the contracts that Scherzer and Strasburg each got, not to mention the Nationals surprising the baseball world back in 2010 by signing Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal, it would be unwise to count them out on any free agent, especially a homegrown star like Harper.
Additionally, retaining Harper would be a wildly popular move for the Nats, who are still in search of their first postseason series win since moving to Washington in 2005. Bottom line: Don't dismiss their chances of keeping Harper.
Like the Yankees, the Dodgers are setting themselves up for a big 2018-19 offseason by getting beneath the luxury-tax threshold this season. Los Angeles would surely find a slot in the outfield for Harper, who hails from nearby Las Vegas.
The Dodgers have shied away from mega-deals for free agents under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, but if there's ever a time to jump into that pool, Harper could be that player based on his age and talent. Of course, should Kershaw opt out of the final two years and $65 million of his contract, L.A.'s top priority would likely be to bring back the face of the franchise. Could the Dodgers sign both? In Hollywood, anything can happen.
Harper's close friendship with fellow Las Vegas native Kristopher Bryant has been well-documented, leading many to wonder whether the two former NL MVP Award winners could wind up as teammates in 2019.
Harper has left many breadcrumbs that suggest Chicago could be in his future, from his dog named Wrigley to Instagram posts of him and Bryant together with the hashtag "#Back2BackOneDay." While some speculate it as little more than some good, old-fashioned trolling by Harper, you have to wonder if he has given serious thought to joining his buddy on the North Side.
The biggest potential obstacle? Jason Heyward is signed to play right field for the Cubs through 2023, a deal that will pay him $106 million between '19-23.
Philadelphia has set itself up for a big offseason in 2018-19, thanks to a payroll featuring only about $62 million in guaranteed contracts, a mega television deal and a wealth of young, controllable prospects.
Citizens Bank Park would be a very attractive place for Harper to hit 81 games a year, especially given his career numbers -- a .966 OPS and 12 homers in 40 games -- in Philly.
Playing in the same division as the Phillies, Harper will have a first-hand look at the young players that currently make up Philadelphia's future core. If he likes what he sees on the other side of the field, it could propel Harper to move 135 miles to the north while remaining in the NL East.
This one might just be pie-in-the-sky for any baseball fan drooling over the prospect of Harper sharing an outfield with Michael Trout, but is it really so far-fetched?
The Angels have roughly $40 million coming off the books after this season, and although they have significant financial commitments to Trout ($68 million in 2019-20), Jose Pujols ($87 million in '19-21) and Justin Upton ($90 million in '19-22), we are talking about the country's second-biggest media market. Matthew Shoemaker is the only player that will be eligible for his third year of arbitration next offseason, meaning a lot of controllable pieces are in place.
If anything, the biggest obstacle for the Halos in signing Harper might be Trout himself. The two-time American League MVP Award winner's contract expires after the 2020 season, and you'd have to assume Los Angeles will want to do whatever it takes to keep him. Signing Harper to a mega-deal could make that far more difficult.
Harper has famously said that his favorite team growing up was the Yankees, his No. 34 uniform serving as a tribute to Mickey Mantle's No. 7.
And while the Yankees might have been seen as potential favorites for Harper's services as recently as three months ago, that is no longer the case. New York's trade for Giancarlo Stanton should pretty much take the Yanks out of the mix for Harper, especially when you consider the funds it will likely take to retain the newest batch of Baby Bombers as they inch closer to free agency themselves.
Stanton and Aaron Judge will be fixtures in the outfield for several years, while Estevan Florial (the team's No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline) is racing through the organization to seize his place as the Yankees' center fielder of the future.
Harper isn't nearly as good a fit for the Yankees as Machado might be, if the Yanks decide to take a run at him for third base. New York's quest to get under the luxury-tax threshold this season would allow the club to become big spenders again next offseason, but it seems unlikely that Harper would be the target of any spending spree.