Manny Machado an early-season NL MVP favorite over reigning MVP Bryce Harper

Will Manny Machado unseat Bryce Harper and win NL MVP in 2022?

When Bryce Harper and Manny Machado entered free agency after the 2018 season, everyone wondered which one would emerge victorious. As in, who would command more money from power-hitter-hungry teams?

Machado struck gold first, signing with the San Diego Padres for 10 years and $300M, the biggest free-agent deal in all of American sports at the time.

Less than a month later, Harper outdid him, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies for 13 years and $330M.

Of course, both would soon be outdone by Mike Trout and Fernando Tatis Jr.’s enormous extensions, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve tracked Machado and Harper’s numbers ever since they both signed. They’re the same age, were, without a doubt, the two biggest fish in their free-agent class, and signed unprecedented contracts. Would either of them live up to the hype?

Harper certainly had an edge over Machado coming into free agency. He’d debuted with the Washington Nationals as a 19-year-old in 2012 and won NL Rookie of the Year. Three years later, he won the NL MVP and his first Silver Slugger award. By the time he reached free agency, he was a six-time All-Star.

Machado debuted the same year, in the American League, but close by in Baltimore. He won two Gold Gloves in his first four years, and finished top-nine in AL MVP voting three times in his first five seasons.

But since signing their blockbuster deals, Harper has outdone Machado. Machado finished third in MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger in the 60-game 2020 season, but Harper won his second MVP and Silver Slugger in 2021.

Here’s how their numbers stack up from 2019-22:

Harper (387 games): .280/.396/.553, .949 OPS, 383 hits, 97 doubles, 5 triples, 89 HR, 264 runs, 250 RBI, 42 stolen bases, 257 BB, 387 K

Machado (401 games): .282/.355/.503, .858 OPS, 421 hits, 72 doubles, 5 triples, 83 HR, 244 runs, 260 RBI, 29 stolen bases, 171 BB, 291 K

On the whole, there are a lot of similarities; they’re only five total bases apart (advantage Harper).

However, now Machado’s name is being floated as an early-season NL MVP candidate, the award Harper won last season. Looking at their numbers for this season so far, the Padres star does have the edge:

Harper (31 games): .269/.326/.521, .847 OPS, 32 hits, 10 doubles, 1 triple, 6 HR, 24 runs, 19 RBI, 6 SB, 9 BB, 32 K

Machado (32 games): .383/.460/.625, 1.085 OPS, 46 hits, 8 doubles, 7 HR, 27 runs, 22 RBI, 6 SB, 17 BB, 24 K

If Machado continues his dominance, he’s a clear MVP frontrunner. The good news is that Harper probably doesn’t care. He already has two of them and has made it clear that he’s got his eye on a bigger, more collective prize. When he won his second MVP last fall, he wrote that he was hungry for more. He repeated that goal on Opening Day, saying he’s ready for his first World Series parade.