Three days after John Middleton boarded his private jet from Clearwater to Las Vegas for his “meet and greet” with Bryce Harper and Scott Boras, Harper still appears no closer to being a Phillie. Instead, a new suitor, the Los Angeles Dodgers, appear to be in the hunt once again.
But according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the end may be nearing.
Harper is expected to make his decision by the end of this week, two team executives told USA TODAY Sports. The executives spoke on condition of anonymity because of ongoing negotiations.
It appears the Dodgers’ interest in Harper is only in a high AAV, short-term deal. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports the Phils remain the only team talking to Harper about a long-term deal.
The Dodgers’ reported entry into the Harper mix is interesting as it relates to the Giants’ pursuit, though both teams are believed to be interested only in shorter-term deals. According to a source, the Phillies remain the only team talking to Harper about a true long-term deal.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) February 25, 2019
This would seem to continue to make the Phillies the clear favorite, as Nightengale noted in his piece above.
Really, it’s quite simple here.
If Harper wants the most money, the Phillies are most likely his team.
If he wants to go to an iconic franchise that’s close to his Las Vegas home, but doesn’t mind leaving about $200 million on the table, he’ll choose the Dodgers.
If he wants to stay out West, but perhaps doesn’t mind playing for a team that’s about to begin their rebuild, and playing in a ballpark that could suffocate his power numbers, he’ll go to San Francisco.
The choice is his.
But the question remains. If the Phils are the only team willing to give Harper a long-term deal, how bad is that deal if Harper continues to hunt for other offers? Is it bad, or is it simply Boras wanting the moon?
It’s clear Boras is hunting around for a way to get the Phillies to increase their offer, and introducing the Dodgers into the mix is clearly designed to do that. But how low is the Phils’ offer? According Nightengale, who appeared on Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast Monday, the Phils have “not come up with the money he wants.”
And the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, appearing on the MLB Network Monday morning, speculated that the Phillies may not have even crossed the $300 million mark (1:15 mark).
As we talked about on Episode 261 of “Hittin’ Season,” the Phillies should not be trying to “win” the Bryce Harper negotiations. They should be trying to “win” Bryce Harper.
The Phils reached a point in the Manny Machado negotiations where they felt they simply had to walk away. It was a much lower bar than I would have walked away from, and while virtually everyone in Philadelphia would be happy to see the team exceed Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million record deal with Miami, it’s fair to wonder if the Phils feel the same way.
As Rosenthal noted above, there is an inherent danger in trying to “win” the negotiations and allow the process to string out too long.
“The danger in doing that, always in free agency, is that you might get blindsided.”
No one other than Middleton, Matt Klentak, Boras, Harper and a select few others know what the Phillies’ offer is. Perhaps they have gone over $300 million, and perhaps they have gone as far as $330 million. But it’s hard to imagine Harper/Boras not pulling the trigger on a 10-year, $330 million deal at this stage of the game if it were on the table.
When Middleton’s plane landed in Vegas, the hope was he was there to talk turkey and hammer down some realistic numbers. The hope was that his “stupid money” comment was coming to fruition.
And maybe he did talk turkey. Maybe his comments have come to fruition, and Boras is getting in one last round of negotiations with others before agreeing to the Phillies’ price. Maybe Middleton has offered Harper a 10-year, $330-350 million deal. If so, then the Phillies have done the right thing.
Certainly, there is a walkaway point. But making Harper the highest-paid player in baseball history should not be a bridge too far. Not if you’re playing with “stupid money,” and certainly not if you want to “win” Bryce Harper.