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The latest Harper free-agent rumors

MLB.com

After a seven-season tenure with the Nationals that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, an NL MVP Award in 2015 and six All-Star nods, Bryce Harper is now a free agent for the first time.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the outfielder.

After a seven-season tenure with the Nationals that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, an NL MVP Award in 2015 and six All-Star nods, Bryce Harper is now a free agent for the first time.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the outfielder.

Who is the front-runner for Harper?
Dec. 12: The Phillies? The Yankees? The Nationals? The Cubs? The Dodgers? All of those teams -- and a few more -- have been linked to Bryce Harper so far this offseason. But which club appears to be in the lead to land the superstar slugger in free agency?

"The front-runner right now, believe it or not, is the Chicago White Sox," CBS Sports Network analyst and former MLB general manager Jim Bowden said Wednesday. "They're the team with the checkbook open. They're being very aggressive."

Tweet from @CBSSportsNet: ���The front runner right now, believe it or not, is the Chicago White Sox.���@JimBowdenGM tells @AdamSchein that it���s the White Sox who are in the lead for Bryce Harper's services. #T2S pic.twitter.com/XoXndaF0F2

With the Winter Meetings being held in Harper's hometown of Las Vegas, the White Sox met with Harper at some point, according to Bowden, who reported that the club stressed the strength of its promising farm system. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez, right-handers Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning, as well as infielder Nick Madrigal -- the club's top pick in the 2018 Draft -- are among the big-name, high-upside prospects who have reached the Major Leagues or should arrive soon.

Will the White Sox pull off a surprise splurge on Harper with a record-setting contract to push the franchise from rebuilding mode toward contention mode in an AL Central division that could be up for grabs as soon as 2020?

Video: Scott Boras discusses the market for Bryce Harper

Boras not ruling out Yankees, Nats as suitors for Harper
Dec. 12: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman all but ruled out the club as a suitor for free agent Bryce Harper earlier this week, saying that there's "no spot" for the 26-year-old in New York's crowded outfield and that using him at first base "isn't an option," according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

And yet, Harper's agent, Scott Boras, isn't ready to say the club is out of the running.

"I've never heard the Yankees say that," Boras said at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday when asked about the team being out on Harper. "It might be that they say things to [the media]. I don't know. I wasn't there.

"As far as the Yankees … you're talking about star players. I go back to Mark Teixeira. The Yankees are very adept; they're smart. If they're going to do something, I think they can earnestly tell you that right now they're not doing it, and have every intention of doing something else when it's best for them to do it. When the nurse walks into the room with the thermometer, the issue is not what the thermometer says that day; the issue is, what's the health of the patient when they're ready to leave the hospital? They're not ready to leave the hospital yet."

Whether it's a smokescreen or not, it benefits Boras for other teams to think the deep-pocketed Yankees are interested in Harper. It's also possible that Cashman's comments were the true smokescreen, as Boras suggested.

The Yankees seem to have a deep outfield, but Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier played a combined 15 games for the club in 2018 due to injuries, while Brett Gardner experienced a steep decline at the plate (86 OPS+). Aaron Hicks has been productive for New York over the past two years, but he has never played more than 137 games in a season and can become a free agent in a year. And with Giancarlo Stanton's injury history, it would be risky for New York to play him in the field every day. That leaves Aaron Judge as the only "sure thing" among the team's outfielders.

Boras also addressed the Nationals, whose principal owner, Mark Lerner, recently acknowledged that he doesn't expect Harper to be back, only for the club's general manager, Mike Rizzo, to say Washington hasn't "closed the door" on a reunion.

"I've talked to Nationals ownership a great deal," Boras said, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. "I have a very clear understanding, as does Bryce, of their position. We've always had a great relationship and we'll continue to have a great relationship. I think when they say the door is open, I would certainly pay attention to what they're saying."

Phils get McCutchen -- but they're not out on Harper
Dec. 11: The Phillies' first key free-agent acquisition of the Winter Meetings wasn't for Harper. It was for another outfielder -- Andrew McCutchen -- whom they landed Tuesday on a three-year deal. But Philadelphia wants to be a major player in free agency this offseason, so adding McCutchen doesn't take the club out of the running for Harper.

Per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, the Phillies are still involved in both the Harper and Manny Machado sweepstakes.

Tweet from @ToddZolecki: Told the McCutchen deal does not remove the #Phillies from Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sweepstakes. Phils might not feel as pressured to spend stupid money to get them, however. Remains to be seen.

That echoes an earlier report from MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal that McCutchen's signing wouldn't preclude Philadelphia from adding another outfielder. That outfielder could be Harper; it could be someone else (say, Michael Brantley).

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: Both @MattGelb and I are hearing same from multiple sources. Told addition of McCutchen would NOT preclude #Phillies from signing another outfielder, whether it���s Harper or someone else. https://t.co/ToylyfCwL7

If it seems like going after Harper on top of McCutchen might make the Phillies outfield too crowded, don't worry. Rosenthal also suggests that getting McCutchen could lead Philadelphia to move one of its younger outfielders in a trade.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: Agreement with McCutchen opens up #Phillies to possibility of trading a younger OFer. Sixto Sanchez, the #Phils��� top pitching prospect, also has been involved in numerous trade discussions, sources say.

On the other hand, signing McCutchen could also be a sign that the Phillies are focusing more on Machado over Harper, as far as marquee free-agent targets. NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury noted that possibility.

What would it take for Harper to land in LA?
Dec. 11: As agent Scott Boras continues to sell Bryce Harper as a player who can make a LeBron James-like impact, both on and off the field, could the 26-year-old outfielder follow in the NBA superstar's footsteps and head to Los Angeles?

It's certainly not out of the question, though it remains unclear if the Dodgers plan to make an aggressive play for the free agent. The contract that Harper is expected to command would be out of character for the Andrew Friedman-led Dodgers front office, which hasn't handed out more than $93 million to any one player despite consistently maintaining a high payroll.

As MLB Network insider Joel Sherman noted in a column for the New York Post on Tuesday, Los Angeles is hesitant to tie up a large portion of its future payroll, which could reduce its flexibility as the retooling Giants and D-backs become serious contenders in the National League West again within the next few years.

But Sherman still envisions a scenario in which Harper lands with the Dodgers.

"Again, it takes dominoes falling," Sherman writes. "Manny Machado would sign with the Phillies; the Nationals, Cardinals and Yankees really would continue to have no interest in Harper; and the only substantial long-term offers would come from someplace like the White Sox. In that scenario, could Harper instead pivot to accept a four-year deal from the Dodgers for a record annual amount and, say, an opt-out after two years to get back into free agency either after his age-27 or -29 season?"

It may also take a trade or two to clear room for Harper in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers have a deep outfield. ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the club has talked to other teams about moving two players from the group of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger, though there has been no indication that those discussions are connected to Harper.

Tweet from @Buster_ESPN: Dodgers have talked to other teams about moving two outfielders among the group of Kemp, Puig, Pederson, Bellinger, and as they look to re-shape payroll, they are also are prepared to move starting pitchers Rich Hill and Alex Wood.

Can White Sox capitalize on opportunity to land Harper?
Dec. 11: The possibility of the White Sox winning the Bryce Harper sweepstakes "seemingly is growing more realistic," according to Ken Rosenthal's latest column for The Athletic on Tuesday (subscription required). But the question remains, would owner Jerry Reinsdorf be willing to break the bank?

As the Winter Meetings enter their second day, Rosenthal lays out the factors the White Sox have going for and against them. In their favor: other suitors dropping out on Harper, and financial flexibility. Not so much in their favor: the size and type of the deal Harper wants.

Two teams that could have been major players for Harper, the Yankees and Nationals, appear to have dropped out of the running, based on comments from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Nats owner Mark Lerner in the last few days. And sources have told Rosenthal that another pair of teams that looked like potential landing spots, the Cubs and Cardinals, are also not engaged in pursuit of the superstar outfielder. Teams like the Dodgers and Phillies will likely go after Harper, per Rosenthal, as well as others, but the White Sox look like they might see less competition than they could have.

Rosenthal also notes that no other team has a more favorable payroll situation to making room for Harper. The White Sox have just over $50 million committed for 2019… and just over $5 million committed for 2020. In 2021 and '22, they have just one player under contract, shortstop Tim Anderson.

So they're in prime position to make a marquee signing, especially in a wide-open American League Central. But to actually get Harper, they'd need to hand out a deal the likes of which the franchise never has before.

The White Sox's largest contract ever awarded is Jose Abreu's six-year, $68 million deal signed in 2013. Reinsdorf does not typically give free agents big contracts, and on top of that a source told Rosenthal that Reinsdorf has privately expressed doubt that his club will win the bidding war for Harper. Plus, Harper also likely wants a deal with multiple opt-outs, which would mean the White Sox risking him leaving just as they were poised to contend.

But Chicago's owner has surprised before -- Rosenthal cites his "stunning" signing of Albert Belle to a five-year, $55 million deal in November 1996 -- and now would be the perfect time to do it again.

Does Harper fit with Yankees?
Dec. 10: The Yankees continue to be mentioned as a team that could be a fit for Bryce Harper, but could the club actually fit Harper?

When asked about the superstar, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said there's "no spot" for him in New York's crowded outfield and that deploying him at first base "isn't an option," according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

Tweet from @Feinsand: Asked about Bryce Harper, Brian Cashman rattled off the names of his six outfielders and said there���s no spot. Reiterated that playing Harper at first base isn���t an option for the Yankees.

Indeed, with incumbent starters Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, as well as returning options Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier as backups, the club is more than set in the outfield. And while the topic of Harper as a first baseman has been floated by his agent, Scott Boras, that possibility doesn't appear to interest Cashman, despite the Yankees relying on the still-unproven Luke Voit and Greg Bird at the position.

If that wasn't a forceful enough take on Harper, Cashman followed up by saying, "I'm surprised [the media is] still asking" about the team's interest, as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch relayed.

Tweet from @BryanHoch: Cashman said that at no point this winter did he talk about getting an outfielder. ���The Harper stuff, I���m surprised you���re still asking.���

Rizzo: Nats not closing door on Harper
Dec. 10: Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner's candid interview with 106.7 The Fan on Friday drew widespread publicity, as Lerner acknowledged that the reported 10-year, $300 million offer Bryce Harper rejected at the end of the regular season was "the best we can do," and indicated that he didn't expect the free-agent outfielder to be back.

And yet, a reunion between Harper and Washington is a possibility that Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo isn't ruling out.

"We haven't closed the door on [Harper]," Rizzo said Monday on MLB Network Radio. "He's a big part of our franchise. He's near and dear to my heart personally, and professionally he's a great player."

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Mike Rizzo: "We haven't closed the door on Bryce Harper."Plot: [Thickens]#Nationals GM at the #WinterMeetings: pic.twitter.com/I5Aq4SzQiP

The Nats have been one of the busier teams this offseason, acquiring Patrick Corbin, Trevor Rosenthal, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, and it's unclear if the club will still be open to giving Harper $300 million should the 26-year-old come back to the negotiating table. But with rivals such as the Phillies expected to be among the bidders for Harper, it is better for the Nats if other teams think Washington might still be in.

Harper to the Cards still a long shot
Dec. 10: The Cardinals got one elite bat in Paul Goldschmidt. Bryce Harper could push them to another level. But as exciting as a lineup anchored by Harper and Goldschmidt would be, that scenario remains unlikely, according to a report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal on Monday (subscription required).

Rosenthal cites St. Louis' roster inflexibility as a chief obstacle to signing Harper, even though the Cards might have the payroll flexibility to give the superstar outfielder the type of long-term deal he's looking for.

For one thing, the Cardinals have $49.5 million tied up in Dexter Fowler over the next three seasons, and Rosenthal calls Fowler "virtually impossible to trade" after Fowler struggled through injuries and poor performance in 2018.

Another option to make room for Harper would be to try to move Marcell Ozuna, but he'd also be difficult to trade. Ozuna just had a right shoulder procedure this offseason, and he's also likely to make a sizeable salary in his last year of arbitration before hitting free agency next offseason. Rosenthal shoots down the idea of St. Louis simply cutting ties with Ozuna and eating the money as unreasonable -- both based on how the organization typically acts and because there's a solid chance Ozuna returns healthy and hits like he did in his All-Star 2017 season, when he clubbed 37 homers for the Marlins.

There is one outfielder the Cardinals might reasonably trade: Jose Martinez. But Martinez doesn't slot in as a starter anyway, and his cheap salary could mean St. Louis keeps him around as a bat off the bench.

Rather than an all-out pursuit of Harper, Rosenthal thinks the Cardinals' priority will be to sign a top left-handed reliever like Andrew Miller or Zach Britton.

Crowded Yankees outfield may be obstacle to Harper signing
Dec. 9: The Yankees are among the rumored destinations for Bryce Harper, and while they plan to meet with the free-agent star, there may be some obstacles to any potential signing.

New York is reportedly questioning if there's a place for Harper due to their surplus of outfielders -- including Giancarlo Stanton, who's due to earn $25 million-$32 million per year through 2027 -- per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. The Yankees are also in the mix for shortstop Manny Machado, who seems to be a more natural fit given Didi Gregorius will miss much of the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The club is said to be prioritizing acquiring another starting pitcher, even after the James Paxton trade, and the price to acquire Harper may prove too high, as Heyman also said New York is unwilling to offer Machado the $300 million contract both he and Harper are rumored to be seeking or perhaps exceed. Harper already turned down a reported 10-year, $300 million offer to remain in Washington, D.C.

Still, the Yankees are among the few teams with the financial means to sign a marquee free agent like Harper. And with Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner publicly acknowledging he doesn't expect Harper to return to the club, the pool of teams that would conceivably add a free-agent contract the size of Harper's to their payroll has shrunk by one.

Boras' handbook compares Harper to LeBron James
Dec. 9: Agent Scott Boras is known for compiling expansive free-agent handbooks extolling his clients' achievements and qualities, and his book on Bryce Harper sounds like a doozy.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the document Boras has been giving to Harper suitors is 118 pages and features comparisons both predictable and provocative, an example of the latter being LeBron James.

"My goal in this thing is to let teams know what they're getting," Boras said. "That's why we brought in the LeBron comparisons. A lot of people don't know what he's done by the age of 25, and how that compares to what LeBron James did at 25. You get a very clear path on how hard it is to achieve a standard of excellence in an arena where you're both No. 1 picks, both rookies of year, both MVPs, and set a standard that no one can meet.

"The way to articulate this in true business form is look at the Nats' franchise. It was worth $480 to $500 million before he got there, and now it's worth more than $2 billion. TV ratings have tripled.

"Every GM in baseball wants him because he fills a need, but the owners are pursuing Bryce Harper because they know he can also make them a billion dollars over a period of years."

Per Nightengale, teams haven't made formal bids to Harper yet, nor is Boras making specific contract demands.

"The only thing we know for sure," one GM said, "is that he's looking for more than 10 years and $300 million."

Of course, 10 years and $300 million is what the Nationals reportedly offered at the end of the regular season, and Harper rejected it, prompting Nats owner Mark Lerner to indicate that he didn't think Harper would be back in a revealing interview with 106.7 The Fan on Friday.

"Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, 'This is the best we can do.' We went right to the finish line very quickly,' Lerner said. "And we said, 'If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we'll see whether we can finish it up.' But we just couldn't afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that."

Added Lerner: "If he comes back [to the negotiating table], it's a strong possibility that we won't be able to make it work. But I really don't expect him to come back at this point. I think they've decided to move on. There's just too much money out there that he'd be leaving on the table. That's just not Boras' MO to leave money on the table."

Harper and Machado negotiations could drag beyond Winter Meetings
Dec. 9: Those hoping the free-agent odysseys of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will reach their respective conclusions during the Winter Meetings may be disappointed.

According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), the history between agents Scott Boras and Dan Lozano could be a major factor in negotiations stretching well beyond this week.

Boras, who represents Harper, used to rep Machado as well before losing him to Lozano in 2011 -- the same year Alex Rodriguez, another former Boras client, joined Lozano. As a result, Boras may have extra motivation to get Harper the bigger deal between this offseason's top two free agents.

"The prevailing assumption in the industry is that Boras wants to set new benchmarks with Harper's free-agent deal, whether in total guaranteed salary, average annual value or -- preferably -- both," Rosenthal writes. "Therefore, he will want Machado to sign first, securing the negotiating equivalent of 'last licks,' in which he would step to the plate knowing the number to beat. Boras' track record also indicates he would be willing to go to extra innings, moving at his own pace, stretching talks into January, if necessary."

But as Rosenthal points out, Machado isn't necessarily going to sign quickly. While Lozano isn't the same type of showman as Boras, outdueling his counterpart has to at least be on his mind in some capacity, and Machado is reportedly receiving interest from at least six teams, including the Yankees, Phillies and White Sox.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal notes that some rival agents and club executives think the market for Harper will be limited, given the bar Boras is believed to be setting. "It's Philly bidding against Philly," one agent said of the Harper sweepstakes.

White Sox selling Harper and Machado on a bright future
Dec. 8: The White Sox are willing to break the bank to land Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but it may take more than cash to get one of those players to sign on the dotted line. Chicago also offers one of the biggest media markets in sports, but even that might not be enough.

As a 10-season postseason drought hangs over the franchise, the White Sox will need to sell Harper and Machado on the idea that World Series championship contention is right around the corner as their talent-rich farm system -- led by top prospect Eloy Jimenez (No. 3 overall, per MLB Pipeline) -- continues to bear fruit.

Granted, adding Harper or Machado might not make the White Sox instant contenders, even in the underwhelming American League Central.

The club has major needs on the pitching staff, especially with No. 2 prospect Michael Kopech (No. 19 overall) set to miss all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, and it's unclear when No. 3 prospect Dylan Cease (No. 25 overall) and No. 6 prospect Dane Dunning (No. 59 overall) will be ready to contribute to the Major League rotation.

But general manager Rick Hahn thinks other players are clued-in enough to understand what the White Sox are building toward.

"You have to understand these guys are professionals, and they understand deep nuances about each individual franchise," Hahn said, according to MLB.com's Scott Merkin. "From a macro standpoint, the idea of potentially being part of a winner in Chicago has very broad appeal.

"From a nuanced standpoint, the chance to be part of the White Sox organization based upon what our future looks like, futures that these players are familiar with and understand having either seen personally some of these young players play or video or talked to other players about them, it's something that they buy into."

While Chicago is likely planning for Jimenez to take over in left field at some point next season, Harper would fit perfectly into the right-field vacancy created when the club non-tendered Avisail Garcia, and the 26-year-old would also give the White Sox a strong left-right tandem of Harper and Jose Abreu in the middle of the order.

Do Phillies prefer Harper or Machado?
Dec. 7: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Manny Machado or Bryce Harper? The Phillies, with all the money they have to spend this offseason, are in on one or the other -- maybe even both. While they recently traded for infielder Jean Segura from the Mariners, they even more recently missed out on splurging on lefty Patrick Corbin, so the possibility that they could land Harper and/or Machado likely only increased.

But if forced to choose between the two superstars of this free-agent market, does the club have a preference? MLB.com's Todd Zolecki weighs exactly that question. His answer?

"There are indications Philadelphia prefers [Machado] over Harper. Now, Machado is not an iconic player like Harper. He is not as accomplished a hitter as Harper. But he is one of the game's greatest talents and he also plays a premium position. It is why Machado has a career 33.8 WAR, while Harper has a career 27.4 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. If the Phils can convince Machado to play third base -- his best position -- they will have one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball for years. Oh, Machado could come at a lower price than Harper, too."

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is hearing otherwise, though, writing Thursday for Fancred Sports that Harper "is believed to be their top target." However, a confidant of Harper thinks the outfielder is "lukewarm on Philly, as a city, anyway."

If that's the case, then perhaps Machado is the more likely option, whether the Phillies prefer Harper or not. 

Could Cubs be lurking for Harper?
Dec. 4: Despite their perceived financial limitations and with many other clubs in the market for Harper, it's long seemed destined that the Cubs will make at least some push to acquire the six-time All-Star. 

Harper has been connected to the Cubs for some time. He is close friends with Kris Bryant, has a dog named Wrigley and has made various social media quips in recent years poking at his perceived allure for potentially playing on the North Side.

In an article published on Monday for The Athletic (subscription required), Patrick Mooney outlines the logistics for why Chicago will at least check in on Harper soon, particularly with the Winter Meetings beginning on Sunday in Harper's hometown of Las Vegas. 

"Knowing the personalities involved and how they operate, it wouldn't make sense for [president of baseball operations Theo] Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to decline the opportunity to get some face time with a superstar player, or for super-agent Scott Boras to exclude a big-market team like the Cubs from the negotiations," Mooney writes. 

Epstein has made bold deals in years past when he's explicitly outlined intentions to avoid such moves. After a last-place finish in 2014, he signed Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal. He also shelled out $184 million to Jason Heyward the following offseason for a nine-year contract, and $126 million over six years to Yu Darvish last year. 

Video: Cubs may need to adjust roster to fit Bryce Harper

But the Cubs' financial framework for 2019 is much different than in years past. Mooney outlines that the Cubs already have committed roughly $160 million to 13 players next year, nearly an additional $40 million in projected arbitration raises, with a $13 million earmark for player benefits and an estimate of $5-10 million in what he describes as the "Trade Deadline fund" that the front office holds in reserve. That all puts the Cubs around $220 million in payroll, per Mooney, which is in line to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax that is set for $206 million for 2019.  

Yet despite all of the signs indicating the Cubs won't be in the market for Harper, the club doesn't seem inclined to stand pat -- especially after losing the division lead that it held nearly all season to the Brewers in Game 163 and the NL Wild Card Game against the Rockies at home.  

"Epstein's aggressive style and competitive nature also won't let him bring back essentially the same group of players and hope for different results," Mooney writes.