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Don’t dismiss the Toronto Blue Jays in market for Bryce Harper

The Toronto Blue Jays have reset things ahead of a rebuild, but there’s a case for them in the mix to sign Bryce Harper.

For the second straight offseason, the MLB “hot stove” has not fully fired up. With basically a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, top free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have yet to sign.

Upon letting manager John Gibbons go after last season, the Toronto Blue Jays set foot on a rebuild with a reported plan to be a contender again in 2020 or 2021. Rather than linger as no better than the third fiddle to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the AL East, a reset was in order for Toronto.

A rebuilding plan would pretty much put the Blue Jays out of the mix for any major free agents this offseason. But Harper’s name was brought up during a radio interview with TSN this week, and general manager Ross Atkins had some interesting things to say about the free agent slugger.

He would fit well in between Bichette and Vladdy at some point, there’s no question. He’s an intriguing player.

It’s something that we’ve contemplated; we’ll continue to. There’s a lot of talent that would be able to help our organization moving forward and we’ll continue to consider all of our alternatives.

The “Bichette and Vladdy” Atkins is referring to are top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who upon arrival in the big leagues are set to lock down the left side of Toronto’s infield for awhile.

The downside risk of giving someone an 8-to-10-year deal in free agency has born a fair amount of fruit in recent years, as aging stars make payroll hampering money well into their decline phase.

But Harper is a slightly different case at 26 years old, and he won’t turn 27 until after next season (Oct. 16). A 10-year deal would take him to age 36. While not ideal, that leaves room for plenty of peak years. With Toronto’s timeline to be a contender, Harper would be going into the second and third years of a hypothetical 10-year deal still on the right side of 30.

For any team with interest, signing Harper of course comes alongside a broader payroll discussion. But as cited by Ian Hunter of Daily Hive Toronto, the Blue Jays have just over $100 million in payroll commitments for 2019. Going further, again via Hunter, the only active player currently on the books for 2020 is Lourdes Gurriel Jr. ($2.92 million).

Harper’s rumored market has centered on the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals, along with the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers to a lesser degree as time has passed.

But the longer Harper goes without signing, some suitors may simply move on. So a team like the Blue Jays can linger in the background, with what some might call a “better than zero” percent chance to swoop in and make a big splash.

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