CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper is in his prime, and nobody wants to waste it.
But the Phillies have not made the postseason in each of Harper’s first three years in Philadelphia, including his NL MVP Award-winning campaign in 2021. So, Harper, like everybody else, is paying close attention to the Phils' offseason. He knows they signed closer Corey Knebel and utility infielder Johan Camargo before the lockout in December. Harper knows they recently agreed to terms with right-hander Jeurys Familia, left-hander Brad Hand and outfielder Odúbel Herrera. But he also knows there is more to do.
Like, how about that big bat in left field?
“There’s a lot of players out there that are really good,” Harper said Monday morning inside the Phillies' clubhouse at BayCare Ballpark. “You’ve got [Kyle] Schwarber, you’ve got Nicky [Castellanos], you’ve got KB [Kris Bryant]. You’ve got a lot of guys out there that could help this team win, that can lengthen our lineup. As you guys have seen, we’re trying to lengthen our bullpen the best that they can. I don’t think we’re done. I don’t think we’re going to settle for just that right now.”
The Phillies have committed around $194 million in salaries to 2023, which leaves them about $30 million to $35 million or so before they reach the new luxury tax threshold at $230 million.
Theoretically, it should give them enough financial flexibility to land one of those middle-of-the-lineup bats in left field, which they need. The Phillies acknowledged as much after the season.
“I think we will go all the way to $230 [million], as of now, I hope,” Harper said. “So I think that's really going to impact our team to go out there and get the guys that are best available and that are smart and work for our team. There’s proven winners out there that help us today.”
So Bryant, Castellanos, Schwarber or somebody like Michael Conforto is the expectation at this point. It would be surprising if the Phillies came up empty.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Harper said. “I mean, it’d definitely be a downer. But you know, if that's the way we’re going to go, you’ve got to put your faith and trust in [general manager Dave Dombrowski]. I never second-guess him. He’s a proven winner everywhere he’s gone, and I’ve put my faith in him to do what’s best for our team and give us the best chance to win.”
The Phillies know they need more, because the NL East is going to be a grind. The Braves won the World Series last year without Ronald Acuña Jr. They almost certainly will not bring back Freddie Freeman, which is a major blow. But they effectively replaced him on Monday, when they acquired slugger Matt Olson in a trade with Oakland. The Mets have been busy, acquiring Max Scherzer, Mark Canha, Starling Marte, Chris Bassitt, Adam Ottavino and others. The Marlins have talented young arms. The Nationals have added noteworthy pieces recently.
“They’re going to be a very good team,” Harper said of the Mets. “Mr. [Steve] Cohen, he’s done a great job evolving his team and doing what he kind of wanted to do. He’s putting his splash on the market, on baseball. It’s great for the players to have that. I’m not going to deny that. He’s doing what’s best for the Mets and their fan base and that organization. They’ve gone out and gotten the players they need to compete. … So, we just have to build the team the best we can. We have faith in Dombo to do that and see where we’re at by the end of spring.”
But Harper said he does not need to call or text Dombrowski or managing partner John Middleton to nudge them.
“I mean, I think they know, right?” Harper said. “They know the types of guys we need in this clubhouse. There’s a lot of players out there that are really, really good. Some fit our team, some of them fit the mold, some of them don't. I don't see us going out and going crazy on [Carlos] Correa or anything like that, because it doesn't make sense for us. But I think there's a couple guys out there that would definitely make sense for us and they know that.
"I don't need to reiterate that. I think the fan base knows that. I think the city of Philadelphia knows that. But I think we definitely need somebody that just gives us the best chance to win. When you get a guy like that or a caliber player like that, it just brings the energy into your clubhouse that much more, knowing that your team is behind you, your organization is behind you.”