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Phillies eye competition in Harper sweepstakes

@ToddZolecki
February 20, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Is there a chance the Phillies are the only team prepared to beat Manny Machado’s record-breaking $300 million contract to sign Bryce Harper? Maybe. Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Nationals have no plans to give Harper a mega-deal comparable to Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Is there a chance the Phillies are the only team prepared to beat Manny Machado’s record-breaking $300 million contract to sign Bryce Harper?

Maybe.

Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Nationals have no plans to give Harper a mega-deal comparable to Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, likely ending any chance for Washington’s longtime face of the franchise to remain with the club. The Nationals offered Harper a contract worth $300 million over 10 years before the end of the 2018 regular season. Harper and his agent Scott Boras rejected the deal.

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Two sources said that roughly $100 million of that offer would have been deferred money, lowering the present-day value of the contract.

The Phillies have been wondering who their competition might be as talks with Boras have ramped up the past couple weeks. The Phillies had a face-to-face meeting last week with Boras in Florida. They have talked since.

The Phillies first met with Harper, his wife Kayla, Boras and his associates last month in Las Vegas.

The White Sox could take a run at Harper. They offered Machado an eight-year, $250 million contract. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal said the deal could have reached $350 million, if Machado vested every option and hit every incentive. But White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams said a guaranteed $300 million “wasn’t feasible to us.”

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If that remains the case with Harper, it is hard to see how they can beat the Phillies.

The Giants have expressed interest in Harper, but many believe they only are willing to offer a lucrative short-term contract. It is difficult to believe Harper would accept a short-term deal, even with a high average annual value. He almost certainly wants to beat Machado’s $300 million deal. In fact, Boras is hunting to smash Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million contract extension with the Marlins in 2014.

The Padres? It is almost impossible to believe they would follow up a record-setting deal with Machado with a second record-setting deal with Harper.

If there is a mystery team out there prepared to offer Harper more than $300 million, congratulations to them. They are running the tightest front office in Major League Baseball.

That brings the Phillies back to the Nationals. Internally, they have considered the possibility that Nationals ownership at some point could snap their fingers and say, “Bring back Bryce.” But once Harper hit free agency, the Nationals’ original offer expired and they proceeded with their offseason plans. They added seven players to the roster, including left-hander Patrick Corbin. If the Nationals added Harper, they almost certainly would exceed the competitive balance tax, and barring that change in the direction from ownership, they are unlikely to exceed that threshold for the third consecutive season.

“I really like the roster that we've constructed so far," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Sunday. "I think we've filled all the gaps that we needed to fill. You never say never. You never say you're done, but we're really satisfied at this particular time in Spring Training with where we're at and the roster we have."

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The Phillies have to take this information, consider it and proceed. They don’t want to get into a situation where they are bidding against themselves, which they very well might be. Of course, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman tweeted Wednesday that Harper is believed to have turned down “multiple offers” over $300 million in recent weeks, although it is unclear who is making these potentially record-breaking offers.

In the end, the Phillies are expected to sign Harper, but they are not expected to be too stupid about it. They have a limit, just like they had with Machado.

“I think very similar to the way we approached the Manny discussions,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “We will continue to proceed with other free agents that make sense for this franchise. We have to remember that there will be other free agents after this offseason. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to spend money and to make our team better. We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs. There’s a significant cost that we’re willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .