Column: Dodgers whiff on Bryce Harper and a chance to solidify a franchise for a decade

Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman chats with manager Dave Roberts during a spring training workout Feb. 19.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers blinked.

Locked in a duel for the services of a player who could have brought them their first World Series championship in 30 years, the Dodgers blinked, and Bryce Harper signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, and suddenly everything feels different.

The Dodgers blinked, and the growing shouts around Los Angeles have become one giant sigh.

The Dodgers blinked, and the cheering for the arrival of a transformational superstar at Chavez Ravine has devolved into two wringing hands.


The Dodgers blinked, and now you have to question, what exactly are they looking at?

They had a chance to lock up a charismatic 26-year-old slugger who could be the swaggering face of the franchise for the next decade. They flew to his Las Vegas home this week in what appeared to be a successful attempt to convince him of their charms. It seemed like Harper was all but begging to come to Los Angeles.

Yet the Dodgers let him go to the one place he clearly didn’t want to go. They lost him to Philadelphia. Really? A city that is far from his West Coast vibe, a team that won’t immediately contend for a championship, and a dugout that is run by the eccentric Gabe Kapler.

The 13-year length of Harper’s contract is insane. The $330-million value is crazy.

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You know what’s also insane? The Dodgers collecting more than $8 billion on a television contract that essentially keeps the games out of the homes of the majority of Angelenos.

You know what’s also crazy? The Dodgers generally raising prices even though the team continually falls short of raising a championship flag. This year, for example, advance parking rates have increased from $15 to $17, with day-of-game parking still at $25.

You know how much general parking costs at an Angels game in Anaheim? Ten bucks.


According to Team Marketing Report, the cost of taking a family of four to a Dodgers game has jumped 31%, to $268, since the first full year of Guggenheim’s ownership in 2013. That’s an increase of one-third with a championship payoff of zero.

The Dodgers blinked, and now you have to blink and realize the truth.

While Andrew Friedman and his crew have admirably built six consecutive West Division champions and two consecutive World Series teams, an organization with buckets of chips will not push them all in for a shot at one big pot.

In his five years here, Friedman has never spent more than $60 million for a free agent from outside the organization. Even when he has paid big money to retain the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, he’s never paid out more than $93 million. Those are outrageous sums, of course, but in the high-priced world of baseball’s top free agents, that just doesn’t play.


Make no mistake, the Dodgers’ method of building from within and making a big splash at the trade deadline — Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, Rich Hill — has worked. They are always playing in October. Once there, they always have legitimate title aspirations. They generally fight to the finish line. Two seasons ago they finished one win short. Last year, three wins short. It’s indeed tough to blame the lack of a big-time free agent for Darvish’s meltdown, Cody Bellinger’s swing or Hill’s departure in the seventh inning.

It has worked, but it’s not worked well enough, and it’s tough to think they’re not doing everything they can to win that last series, that last game, that final pitch. In a star-driven town where the most popular franchise brings in LeBron James and actually celebrates the chance to spend more big money, it’s hard to swallow the notion that the Dodgers would forsake a chance at even one more win to watch their wallet.

One of baseball’s richest franchises pursuing a willing recruit like Harper and then losing him strictly over his salary demands just doesn’t equate. Harper almost certainly won’t be worth $330 million. He certainly wouldn’t have hurt, though, and it certainly would have been worth it to frustrated Dodgers fans to find out.

The word is that the Dodgers might have gone as high as five years and $225 million for Harper. The guess here is that he would have taken less money to come to Los Angeles, considering it easily was his first choice. Couldn’t there have been a compromise in there somewhere?


Now Harper takes his talents to a place where some media and fans mercilessly ripped him earlier this week when it appeared they had lost him to the Dodgers. One talk show host tweeted that Harper “can go to hell.’’ A talk show caller said he wanted to spit on him.

Dodgers fans would have loved him, but the Dodgers won’t pay for him, so now they will prepare for the 2019 season without him, another solid team playing in a lousy division, probable West champions again, but beyond that?

There’s little buzz. There’s dwindling patience. A.J. Pollock is their big free-agent acquisition, but can the injury-prone outfielder stay on the field? Friedman probably will do something big again at midseason and make it work. But will it work well enough?

If it doesn’t work again, well, next winter they can always spend big on Colorado’s Nolan Arenado ... nah, he just re-signed there. OK, then they can spend big on … ah, forget it.


Once again, when it comes to bringing a star to Hollywood, the Dodgers are more about raising prices than raising hopes.

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke