Multiple reports have emerged in the last 48 hours that suggest that the Philadelphia Phillies feel confident about their chances to sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. It appears, though, that they have become the definitive favorite for one of the two star free-agents specifically.
Though many Twitter sleuths tried to analyze the body language of managing partner John Middleton and general manager Matt Klentak after they returned to Philadelphia Saturday night, the organization’s meeting with Harper in Las Vegas was apparently productive. Very productive. So productive, in fact, that Bob Nightengale of USA Today now says that the Phillies are believed to be the favorite to sign the six-time All-Star:
The Philadelphia Phillies, and not the Washington Nationals, have emerged as the clear-cut favorite to sign free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper after meeting with him for five hours Saturday in Las Vegas, three officials told USA TODAY Sports.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of ongoing negotiations, but the Phillies have become the most aggressive team in their pursuit for Harper while the Nationals’ interest appears to be waning. Nationals executives are now calling a reunion with Harper a “long shot.’’
Nightengale did add that the Phillies didn’t make an offer to Harper during their meeting Saturday, but the belief is that they will do so in the next week. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs have shown tepid or no serious interest in Harper, meaning none of them, barring an 11th hour change of heart, appear to be realistic suitors at this stage. And Nightengale adds that those in the Nationals organization believe that Harper won’t be playing in D.C. in 2019, unless he’s willing to “accept a contract that pays him less than $25 million a year,” which even with less than a market than anticipated, feels like it would be insulting.
By no means does this report mean that a Harper signing is imminent.
Per Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post, the six-time All-Star rejected a 10-year/$300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals on the final day of the 2018 regular season. Nationals owner Mark Lerner told Chris Lingebach of 106.7 The Fan in December, seemingly referring to this reported offer, that he had told Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, that this deal was the best the club was prepared to offer. Harper ultimately didn’t accept the deal, and shortly after the Nationals signed two-time All-Star lefty Patrick Corbin to a lucrative six-year deal Lerner seemed to publicly waive the white flag on Harper. Harper’s free-agency has been drawn out, one reason why many haven’t ruled the Nationals out of the Harper sweepstakes, though Nightengale’s report seems to suggest a reunion is pretty unlikely.
The Phillies, according to ESPN‘s Jeff Passan, are one team that’s willing to guarantee Harper a deal of at least a decade. Although, until such an offer is formally put forward, we’ll wait and see. It sounds strange when talking about Harper, but the Phillies do need to be careful not to bid against themselves. There’s also the little fact that Manny Machado, another 26-year-old superstar, is also a free-agent, and the belief from many all along has been that the Phillies prefer Machado over Harper.
Middleton called the meeting with Harper “really positive” Saturday night, an assessment that Klentak agreed with. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll get an idea of how positive it was, as the two sides move towards potentially negotiating what’s likely to be one of the most complicated deals in baseball history.
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