CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Cliff Lee had a mystery team once, and he signed with that mystery team in December 2010.
Remember? The Yankees and Rangers pursued Lee the entire offseason, and everybody expected him to choose between the two. But the Phillies engaged Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker during the Winter Meetings about a possible deal. Former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. shortly thereafter got former president David Montgomery to sign off on the pursuit -- former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Scott Proefrock helped convince Montgomery to go for it -- and they signed Lee the following week to a five-year, $120 million contract.
The news stunned everybody.
Mystery teams in the Harper sweepstakes have been difficult to find, but then a report early Monday morning said that the Dodgers might be back in the mix. The extent of the Dodgers’ interest is unknown, but if they are making a last-second push it would be a significant development. Phillies managing partner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas on Friday to meet with Harper and his wife, Kayla. Middleton met more with Boras on Saturday before he hopped on his jet and returned to Florida on Saturday night.
The Phillies never struck an agreement with Harper before Middleton left town, but they have been moving in that direction. In fact, there has been growing optimism they would sign Harper, perhaps even before the end of the week. Opening Day is a little more than a month away. Everybody is ready for this to end.
But then, of course, the Dodgers news broke.
If there are other private jets from other owners still lined up on the tarmac at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, who’s most likely there? We take a stab at the Phillies’ potential competition:
Nationals: Nationals owner Mark Lerner told NBC Sports Washington on Friday that they have “moved on” from Harper, although he added a caveat that “the door’s cracked a little bit.” Boras would love the Lerners to change their minds and pressure the Phillies to increase their offer, but the feeling in Nationals camp is that it’s unlikely. That said, if the Phillies have concerns about a team surprising them at the last second, other than the Dodgers, it is probably the Nationals.
Dodgers: ESPN and MLB.com have learned that the Dodgers are back in play for Harper. The Dodgers made a blockbuster trade in December that sent outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, along with left-hander Alex Wood and catcher Kyle Farmer, to the Reds. That transaction cleared some outfield space, sparking speculation that Los Angeles might make a move to sign Harper. But the Dodgers signed free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock last month, and it appeared that the club was done adding to the outfield at that point.
Giants: San Francisco could make a mega-deal commitment, especially after signing a new naming rights agreement with Oracle. The Giants were willing to take on Giancarlo Stanton’s massive contract last offseason, until the Yankees acquired him. But so far they have been interested in a short-term deal, which Harper is unlikely to accept.
Padres: It is impossible to imagine the Padres following their record-breaking $300 million contract with Manny Machado with another record-breaking deal. The Padres have not outright denied their interest in Harper, but The Athletic reported over the weekend that San Diego’s conversations with Boras are more focused on left-hander Dallas Keuchel. The Athletic described San Diego’s chances at Keuchel as a long shot. If he’s a long shot, that makes Harper a super long shot.
White Sox: Chicago met twice with Harper’s camp: once in Chicago and once in Las Vegas. The White Sox pursued Machado more intensely than Harper, ultimately offering Machado an eight-year, $250 million contract. White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams said they could go no further. It is difficult to imagine the White Sox tacking on another $100 million for Harper, if that is the case. Perhaps the only wild card here is the Sox could use some star power with the Cubs leaving their TV network to start their own next year.
Astros: Houston had a trade in place last July for Harper, but Nationals ownership rejected it. Even though the Astros like Harper, those in the know do not believe they would give him a long-term deal. Like most teams, they would be interested in a short-term contract.
Cardinals: The Cardinals always seem to be mentioned in these sweepstakes, but there are no indications they are even remotely involved. St. Louis seems more likely to earmark its money to extend first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and right-hander Miles Mikolas. The Cardinals also remain committed to Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez in right field.