CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Harper’s bazaar remains open for business.
Phillies managing partner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas on Friday to meet with Bryce Harper and his wife Kayla. He also met with Scott Boras, Harper’s agent. Middleton returned to Florida on Saturday night. Sources told MLB.com that no agreement had been reached and that it might not happen before the end of the weekend. One source, however, said Middleton did not fly to Las Vegas expecting to finalize the terms of what might become the biggest free-agent contract in the history of American sports.
He flew there to meet more with the Harpers, who have a close relationship with Nationals ownership. Harper played his first seven big league seasons with Washington, which selected him with the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft.
It is the type of meeting that one might request if he thinks he could spend the next 10 years in a new place.
A source also reinforced an NBC Sports Philadelphia report this week that speculation Harper does not want to play in Philadelphia is untrue.
Philly is not a problem for Harper.
The Phillies remain optimistic they will sign Harper, but it is taking time. Boras surely wants to obliterate Manny Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract, which he signed this week with the Padres, and Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract extension with the Marlins, which he signed in 2014. But while the Phillies probably know they must beat those numbers, they have a limit.
They also wonder if they are the only show in town. The Nationals said Friday they have “moved on” from Harper. The White Sox reportedly are not going to pursue Harper, like they chased Machado, whom they offered only $250 million. The Padres just signed Machado, so it is nearly impossible to believe they could follow that contract with another mega deal. The Giants have expressed interest, but perhaps only on a short-term deal.
Could there be a mystery team out there? Sure, but the Phillies are unlikely to bid based upon fears about a potential mystery team.
Middleton’s solo meetings with Harper and Boras the past two days in Las Vegas are at least the third face-to-face meetings between the two parties. Everybody met together for the first time last month in Las Vegas. That meeting also included Phillies president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak, assistant general manager Ned Rice and manager Gabe Kapler. A smaller group met with Boras early last week in Florida.
MacPhail and Klentak were in Clearwater on Saturday, where the Phillies played the Pirates in a Grapefruit League game at Spectrum Field.
Some Phillies players say they are not following the Harper news minute to minute, report to report, but the drama is impossible to escape.
“It changes the team,” Phillies left fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “It changes a lot for whatever team that he’s on. We feel like we have a really good team here. The Phillies have done a good job of getting some guys over here, getting [Jean] Segura, getting [J.T.] Realmuto, getting [David] Robertson. It’s a great team here and he’s only going to make it better. It would be amazing.”
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections currently list the Phillies as an 85-win team, tied with the Braves. The Nationals (89) and the Mets (87) are ranked ahead of them.
Could the addition of Harper push the Phillies from National League East title contender to NL pennant contender?
“I haven’t played a game yet, but with the names of the guys we have around, I think we definitely have the ability to do that,” McCutchen said. “We have the talent on there, we just have to put it together as a team. You can have a great, talented team, but if you don’t have [chemistry], then you’re not going to win. I don’t know if there’s ever been one team that won a championship that didn’t have this. This is always the final piece of the puzzle. I think we’ll do a good job. We have some great guys here and we’ll be able to develop those relationships. This is the time to do it. I think the team is there. It will keep coming together as we keep fighting and going out. Definitely have that opportunity.”
Later, McCutchen added this about why he signed a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies.
“The Phillies were trying to get big-name guys when they signed me and I knew they weren’t done,” he said. “I knew they were looking to add more guys and they have. … They are really all in. You want that as a player, especially when you’ve tasted it before. That’s what it’s all about. I want to win a championship and I think this team is capable of that.”
Harper would help.