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Phils owner Middleton in Harper's hometown

Club's competition fading in pursuit of free agent
@ToddZolecki
February 22, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- This is getting serious. A source confirmed an NBC Sports Philadelphia report on Friday night that Phillies owner John Middleton’s plane was in Las Vegas, the hometown of Bryce Harper and his wife Kayla. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that Middleton traveled without Phillies president Andy

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- This is getting serious.

A source confirmed an NBC Sports Philadelphia report on Friday night that Phillies owner John Middleton’s plane was in Las Vegas, the hometown of Bryce Harper and his wife Kayla. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that Middleton traveled without Phillies president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak. He also reported that Harper’s agent Scott Boras and his crew were there, too.

The parties were not expecting to strike a deal before the end of the evening Friday. They met for the first time in January. They met for a second time early last week. Middleton’s solo meeting in Vegas is at least the third face-to-face meeting.

So what is this meeting about? It is widely known that Harper had an incredibly close relationship with Nationals ownership. Nationals owner Mark Lerner said in December on Washington’s 106.7 The Fan that, “We couldn't be fonder of the two of them, Kayla and Bryce. They're like family. I mean, they've been with us ... first time we met him, he was 16 years old. It's hard to see somebody like that go, but unfortunately it's a strong possibility that's going to happen.

“I love Bryce.”

Perhaps Harper and his wife want to see if they can have a similar relationship with Phillies ownership, too.

Philly unlikely to engage Keuchel, Kimbrel

Lerner said the Nationals have “moved on” from Harper in an interview Friday morning with NBC Sports Washington. The White Sox are reportedly not going to take a run at Harper. They offered Manny Machado an eight-year, $250 million contract, saying they could go no further. The Padres just handed Machado a 10-year, $300 million contract. It is incredibly unlikely they follow a record-breaking contract with another record-breaking contract.

The Giants seem unwilling to make Harper a multiyear, mega contract offer.

Maybe there is a mystery team out there that could shock the Phillies.

If not, the Phillies might be the only team capable of giving Harper what he wants. And that may be why Harper wants another chance to talk to Middleton in person.

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