Might Dodgers foil Phils' bid for Harper?

February 25th, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have been confident for weeks that they will sign to a multiyear, record-breaking contract, in part because they believe they are the only team capable of giving him close to what he wants. In fact, the feeling has been that a deal could be finalized in the coming days.

Then the Dodgers entered the picture.

MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported early Monday that the Dodgers rejoined the fray, visiting Harper on Sunday in Las Vegas. It's the latest twist in the Harper saga because Los Angeles appeared to have moved on earlier this offseason when it signed A.J. Pollock to complete the outfield. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Sunday was the first time they had met Harper this offseason, with Roberts, CEO Stan Kasten and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman returning to Camelback Ranch in Arizona on Monday morning, the trio having left for the meeting after Sunday’s Cactus League win over the Angels.

Conversely, the Phillies have met at least three times with Harper and/or his agent Scott Boras, most recently Friday and Saturday, when Phillies managing partner John Middleton visited both in Las Vegas.

Middleton declined comment Monday afternoon at Spectrum Field. He said he will speak after Harper picks a winner.

But the sense Monday is these negotiations are coming to a head. Internally, the Phillies still believe that Harper will accept the biggest deal.

It means the Phillies remain confident he will choose them, assuming they make the biggest offer. There is nothing to suggest they will not. MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal reported Monday that the Dodgers’ interest is only short-term. A source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand that the Phillies remain the only team talking to Harper about a true long-term deal.

If that holds true, Harper’s decision could come down to this: sign a record-breaking contract with the Phillies or sign something smaller with the Dodgers or Giants and stay closer to home on the West Coast. Harper could play with a team for just a few years and re-enter the market and score another lucrative contract, but one of the reasons the Padres handed Manny Machado $300 million and one of the reasons the Phillies could top that for Harper is that both players are 26-year-old superstars.

It will be difficult for Harper to find a record-breaking contract as a 29- or 30-year old.

It remains difficult to imagine that after spending the past several months hunting the biggest free-agent contract in American sports history that Harper and Boras will settle for anything less.

The Phillies know Harper wants to beat Machado’s $300 million contract and Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million contract extension. Boras is believed to be seeking something well north of $350 million.

Many have continued to wonder if the Dodgers news means Harper really does not want to play in Philadelphia. Sources told MLB.com over the weekend that any speculation that Harper does not want to play in Philly is “fabricated.” But Phillies fans might recall Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies in December 2010. The Yankees and Rangers had been his only two legitimate suitors that winter, but Lee badly wanted to return to the Phillies.

Lee kept telling the Rangers and Yankees he was not prepared to decide between the two, but behind the scenes he pushed his agent to ask the Phillies to re-enter the picture. Eventually, the Phils crept back into the fold. A few days later, they surprised everybody and signed Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract.

There have been reports that Harper likes the idea of playing closer to his home in Las Vegas. The Dodgers fit the bill. They are a great team, playing in a sold-out ballpark, in a great city. Los Angeles loves its stars, too. Harper would be there, playing baseball in the same town that LeBron James plays basketball.

But will that possibility scare the Phillies into doing something rash? They have exercised discipline this offseason, but expectations in Philadelphia that the Phillies will sign Harper have reached a crescendo.

Can they afford to lose him now?

Stay tuned.