CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have been the favorites in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes for months, and that speculation heated up over the weekend.
MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Sunday afternoon that negotiations between the Phillies and Harper "appear to be intensifying." Sources told MLB.com that while the Phillies and Harper's agent Scott Boras have been talking recently and making progress, nothing is imminent. Heyman said that interested teams like the Padres, Giants and White Sox have not been told they are out of the running, also indicating that nothing is close.
The Phillies have been pursuing both Harper and Manny Machado since the beginning of the offseason. The agents for both Harper and Machado know that no team probably has more money to commit to a single player than the Phillies, which means it behooves them to try to pit the Phillies against other teams to drive up the bidding.
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But push the Phillies too hard and they could move to the other player. And if the Phillies fall off the board first -- most still believe Philadelphia will sign Harper or Machado -- the remaining superstar free agent has lost a significant bargaining chip (i.e. telling teams the Phillies are ready to write their client a monster check).
Sources have indicated in the past that the Phillies prefer Machado over Harper in part because of his combination of offense and defense at a premium position, like third base. But Harper is a tremendous hitter and Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has said he believes Harper is a better defensive outfielder than his metrics showed last season. Harper also is a true superstar with mass marketing appeal. Just a couple weeks ago, he showed his impact when a bogus report surfaced from Las Vegas that Harper had agreed to a deal with the Phillies. Some fans called the Citizens Bank Park ticket office to purchase partial season-ticket plans, based solely on that unsubstantiated tweet.
Over the past few days there have been reports that Harper is in a "mood to celebrate" and "rounding third" in negotiations. Fans even searched for meaning in Harper typing "suhhhhh kiiiiiiid" in the comment section below Rhys Hoskins' most recent Instagram post. (Harper and Hoskins both share Boras as an agent.)
Phillies fans also got worked up Sunday when Twitter starting buzzing that the Phillies allegedly told their entire sales department they needed to work Monday, despite the offices being closed for Presidents Day. Some wondered if that meant the Phillies needed everybody in the office to handle a sudden crush of phone calls.
The truth is just a few interns in the sales department will be manning the phone lines Monday, just like previous years. Everybody else in the sales department is off as scheduled.
Yes, this is the life and times of Harper and the Phillies.
So what do we know? The Phillies and Boras have been talking recently and nothing is imminent. Oh, we also know this: The Phillies will have their first full-squad workout Monday at Carpenter Complex. Harper and Machado will not be there.
Harper could be coming at some point, but negotiations can change at a moment's notice. Phillies fans might not remember, but the Phillies' negotiations with Cliff Lee in December 2010 legitimately died a few times within a span of 72 hours. Phillies front office executives and Lee's agent even sent each other condolence texts expressing their dismay that they could not strike a deal.
Then they did.