Analysis

Bryce Harper update: all the latest facts, rumors, innuendo, and speculation



Super agent Scott Boras represents Harper and is trying to negotiate the best deal possible for his client. The Phillies are the leaders as that process draws to a close. (MissChatter/WikiCommons)

Okay, Phillies Nation, here we are, finally. What began as one of the most anticipated Hot Stove seasons in Philadelphia Phillies history is drawing to a close. It has been a long, at times exciting, often times frustrating off-season around these parts.

The first official day of spring does not come until March 20, exactly one month from today. It is snowing today in Philadelphia, but spring training has begun down in Clearwater, Florida. We have begun walking down the path towards the 2019 baseball season.

The local professional baseball team appears to be greatly improved. Rhys Hoskins is back at first base. Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto bring All-Star talent in their prime to the shortstop and catcher positions. Former MVP Andrew McCutchen is now out in left field. David Robertson bulked up an already talented bullpen. Cy Young finalist Aaron Nola, newly wealthy, leads the rotation.

But while there has been great improvement, a large swath of the Philadelphia sports fan population remains uninspired. Yes, the Phillies appear to be better. But so do the club’s toughest rivals within the National League East Division and other top teams across the senior circuit.

Manny Machado, the talented and at times controversial superstar whom the Phillies pursued as a free agent is now off the board. The San Diego Padres lured the 26-year-old infielder to the west coast yesterday with a 10-year, $300 million contract that includes a player opt-out after five of those years.

Where we are now is at a point of clear focus. Bryce Harper is that focus point. One of baseball’s biggest stars, Harper has been the player whom Phillies fans have wanted all along. The fans expressed that desire clearly and overwhelmingly on social media and sports radio talk shows all winter long.

The Phillies are believed to be the leaders in the pursuit of Harper, a race that now appears to be drawing to a close. But if you read that sentence carefully it contains phrasing that you will find in nearly everything being said and written regarding Harper at this point: “believed to be” and “appears to be” are the key words.

WHO IS BRYCE HARPER?

For those who have been asleep at the wheel, here is a brief primer on the player himself. Harper is, like Machado, a 26-year-old superstar player who has reached free agency just as he is about to enter his prime playing years.

The first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of a Nevada junior college by the Washington Nationals, Harper has been an NL All-Star in six of his seven big-league seasons. He was the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year and then became the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player at just age 22.

Harper has prodigious power, the type not consistently seen at Citizens Bank Park since Ryan Howard‘s heyday nearly a decade ago. He has banged 184 career home runs, with 129 of those coming over the last four years. He has a career .279/.388/.512 slash line with a .900 career OPS.

His is what has been described as “generational talent“, a player of the type where only a few come along during any period of play in baseball history. Yes, he has weaknesses in his game. Yes, he demonstrated immaturity as a younger player. I’ll leave it to others to discuss those imperfections because, frankly, the good in his game and personality far outweighs the bad.

So let’s take a minute to catch everyone up on exactly where we are at this point in the pursuit of Harper. The Phillies organization, the folks representing him at Boras Corporation, and Harper himself have all been largely buttoned-up and tight-lipped in providing updates and information. None of these first-hand ships has, as yet, sprung a leak.

LATEST FROM NATIONAL MEDIA

To get the best current available read, we need to turn to the second-hand resources. I’m talking about those national and local reporters who have traditionally shown themselves to have the most reliable sources and inside information. So, what are they saying?

Jon Heyman, considered an MLB insider for years, has been going crazy on social media recently. He provides regular updates, always couched with that “believed to have” or “believed to be” phrasing and often regurgitating what is already well known.

His latest states that five teams are “believed still in contact“: the Phillies, Padres and Nationals, the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago White Sox. Heyman also states that Harper “is believed to have turned down multiple offers over 300M in recent weeks.” Who is it exactly that “believes” those things? Heyman himself? Who knows?

Bob Nightengale of USA Today has repeatedly emphasized that he believes the Phillies are the clear front-runners and that they will land Harper. Many, including me, have speculated that, having lost out on Machado, the Chicago White Sox would now become the Phillies biggest challenge to winning the Harper sweepstakes.

However, Nightengale’s latest states that the Chisox are “out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes“, and that they are turning their attention to other free agents.

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune is an extremely reliable Padres source. In the aftermath of their deal with Machado, Acee wrote that a “high-ranking team source said Tuesday, “We’re not signing him”” in regards to Harper.

Last Friday, Brittany Ghiroli at The Athletic wrote that “people in the Nationals’ organization, per sources, were told by the team’s front office this week that the team was out of the running for Harper.

If these insiders can be taken at face value and believed to be speaking the truth of the various clubs, that actually puts the White Sox, Nationals and Padres out on Harper. That would appear to make it down to the Phillies and Giants.

In an appearance this morning on 105.7 The Fan out of Milwaukee, Nightengale framed that battle in this manner:

In a radio interview with 96.9 The Game out of Orlando, Florida today, J.P. Morosi statedI think it’s gonna be the Phillies…They, I believe, are gonna have the biggest offer and they can also give Harper something that the Giants can’t which is an opportunity to win right now.

Morosi also made a joke regarding the timing on a Harper announcement: “When is the Harper story gonna break? About three minutes before the Manny Machado press conference begins. And then you’ll have the crew of reporters all barreling out of the room to go Tweet news of the Harper signing.”

Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote the following yesterday after Machado had signed with the division-rivals from San Diego: “The Giants have never played Keep Up With the Joneses, not under Brian Sabean, not under Bobby Evans, and apparently they won’t under Farhan Zaidi. Without mentioning Bryce Harper by name, Zaidi said the Giants do not feel compelled to make a huge move to counter Machado.

However, Schulman also wrote that Zaidi said any deals that the Giants would make at this point would center on “improving our front-line roster.” Harper would certainly improve any team’s starting lineup.

LATEST FROM LOCAL MEDIA

Matt Gelb at The Athletic wrote the following regarding the dynamic that could be at play behind the scenes between general manager Matt Klentak, club president Andy MacPhail and their expanded baseball analytics people and principal owner John Middleton, whose stupid money” comments earlier this off-season lit a spark in the fan base:

Baseball people do not like it when business people interfere with negotiations. A valuation is an on-field one, period. But what if it isn’t?…Middleton…has spoken at length about his unwavering desire to win another championship…He loves baseball. He loves to win. How do you place a valuation on that?

In a piece today at Forbes, Kevin Cooney tapped into the emotions of the fan base perfectly when he wrote that Middleton failing to get Harper signed now “would make a billionaire look like just another guy who talked a good game and yet folded when the dollars got to a certain level.

Corey Seidman at NBC Sports Philadelphia sees the possibility of the Harper saga possibly now expanding to more teams and dragging on for awhile yet: “…if the $300 million-plus offers for Harper do not materialize because fewer teams are in on him, Harper and Boras could change course and go shorter, which would bring more teams back into the fold. The complexity of this all is why a Harper signing might not be imminent.

WHERE WE NOW STAND

Based on what we have heard from reliable sources, the Phillies would appear to be clearly in the driver’s seat. It seems that they would indeed be willing to beat the Machado terms in a Harper deal. The San Francisco Giants might have a shot if Harper simply doesn’t want to come here and is willing to settle on a shorter-length deal. The Washington Nationals might be given a last chance to match or beat whatever final offer either the Phillies or Giants should make. So, how much might it take to get a deal done?

In a “Baseball Tonight” podcast released today, ESPN insider Buster Olney and guest Scott Miller of Bleacher Report both speculated that the Phillies would win the battle. Olney even came up with a number: “It would not shock me, because the Machado contract definitely is higher than most people in the game expected, it would not shock me if Bryce’s deal, when it’s first leaked out through one of Scott’s (Boras) guys in the media, it’s gonna have the number ‘4’ in it.

Olney means $40 million per year, possibly even a 10-year $400 million deal. He then went on to specifically emphasize a similar point touched on by both Gelb and Cooney: “I do think that if he goes to the Phillies, it’s gonna be because John Middleton basically grabs the steering wheel away from the baseball analytics people in his front office and says “I don’t care about value, I know what the reactions of the fan base is gonna be if we don’t sign this guy!“”

And that is pretty much where we stand, folks. Personally, I’ve always been more of a “here’s what we know” guy than a “here’s what we think” or “here’s what we hope” type. But this is a unique process, as I’m sure most Phillies fans understand by now. Here at Phillies Nation, we’ll be striving to give you all of the most reliable information possible until that process is completed.

 

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. czontixhldr

    February 20, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    Matt, nice writeup, but I disagree with the Harperlove you’re showing.

    I don’t think you spent nearly enough time covering his flaws, but then that’s my opinion. We’re 4 years away from that MVP season, and in 2 of the lat 3 seasons he’s produced less then 2 rWAR. He’s also been injury prone throughout his career, and has only averaged 132 games per season. Does injury risk go up or down with age.

    Yes, he had one monster year – that’s what all the hype is based on. He’s been quite ordinary or just above that a bunch of other years. Subtract the MVP season – which might be an outlier like Brady Anderson’s 1996 – and you’ve got a guy who’s slash line is .269/.373/.487: .860, which might be his true talent level. Yes, that’s above average, but with his barely average defense which will probably decline with age as all defense does, that’s not very promising given aging curves. If the Phillies sign him are they going to have a DH in 5 years making 30+MM per season?

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    MINOR LEAGUESBohm tops new Phillies MLB Pipeline top 30 prospects
    ByAlec WhitakerPosted on February 20, 2019
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    Alec Bohm was the Phillies first-round pick in 2018. (Baseball Betsy)

    The Philadelphia Phillies missed out on signing four-time All-Star Manny Machado to man the hot corner Tuesday. But with former No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez traded to the Miami Marlins earlier this month to acquire All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, 2018 first-round pick Alec Bohm, currently a third baseman, has jumped to the top of MLB Pipeline‘s new top 30 Phillies prospects.

    The new top 30 list is as follows:

    3B Alec Bohm
    RHP Adonis Medina
    OF Adam Haseley
    SS Luis Garcia
    RHP Spencer Howard
    RHP Enyel De Los Santos
    LHP JoJo Romero
    RHP Francisco Morales
    OF Mickey Moniak
    LHP Ranger Suarez
    OF Jhailyn Ortiz
    OF Simon Muzziotti
    SS Arquimedes Gamboa
    C Rafael Marchan
    LHP Mauricio Llovera
    LHP Cole Irvin
    LHP Kyle Young
    SS Nick Maton
    C Rodolfo Duran
    2B Daniel Brito
    LHP David Parkinson
    LHP Kyle Dohy
    RHP Dominic Pipkin
    RHP Kevin Gowdy
    OF Cornelius Randolph
    LHP Jhordany Mezquita
    RHP Starlyn Castillo
    RHP Edgar Garcia
    RHP Connor Seabold
    LHP Manuel Silva
    Bohm, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, blazed through the Gulf Coast League, hitting .344 in 32 at-bats, before being promoted to short season Williamsport. The former Wichita State Shocker hit just .224 with 12 RBIs in 107 at-bats for the Williamsport Crosscutters, but dealt with a knee injury that cost him over a month of time. His biggest task in 2019 may be proving that he can handle playing third base long-term, something some have wondered about.

    Luis Garcia jumped from No. 13 to No. 5 after an incredible 2018 season where he hit .369 as a 17-year-old in Rookie Ball. Spencer Howard saw a humongous jump from No. 19 to No. 4, despite a 3.78 ERA in 23 starts for Low-A Lakewood. It’s often difficult to project a minor league talent based upon their statistics in the lower levels of the minor leagues.

    It was surprising to see David Parkinson move back two spots, the 23-year-old had a stellar year in 2018, going 11-1 with a 1.45 ERA across Low-A and High-A. Cole Irvin also saw a seven-spot drop, despite going 14-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 161.1 innings for Triple-A Lehigh Valley a season ago.

    Newcomers to the list include catchers Rafael Marchan and Rodolfo Duran; along with pitchers Mauricio Llovera, Starlyn Castillo, Edgar Garcia and Manuel Silva. It was also somewhat of a surprise to see Cornelius Randolph still have a spot on the list after hitting .241 in Reading last season.

    The top 30 list saw a lot of shuffling, but one thing is sure – despite the loss of Sanchez, the Phillies still have a talented farm system that will allow them to make more moves.

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    Bryce Harper update: all the latest facts, rumors, innuendo, and speculation Klentak on Machado signing with Padres: “Sometimes you have to be willing to walk away” Machado deal represents victory for players, puts major pressure on Phillies 2 COMMENTS
    denzen February 20, 2019 at 12:32 pm
    What about Catcher Deivi Gruillon.? Wasn’t he a highly thought of prospect.? I liked what I saw of him.

    REPLY
    schmenkman February 20, 2019 at 4:38 pm
    Fair question, different analysts weigh things differently, for example ceiling, vs. floor, or proximity to majors, etc.

    Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts has Grullon 20th in his top 50. The Good Phight has him 19th in their top 30.

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    Also, I disagree that he’s displayed “prodigious power” not seen since Ryan Howard. He’s only hit 30 or more HR twice in 7 years. IIRC Howard was the fastest guy to 100 and 200 HR in MLB history. Before Howard got injured he never hit LESS than 30.

    I’ve made myself clear. I don’t want the PHillies to sign this guy. Spread that money out elsewhere and/or save it for July.

    I’ll stick my neck out and say this contract in a few years will look like the Howard deal. I pray that Boras doesn’t con Middleton/MacPhail/Klentak on this one.

    And Kevin Cooney is correct about their reputations being on the line – but not in the way Kevin thinks. If they sign Harper they’ll look foolish in a couple of years, because all of the writers will then shift gears and write about all the warning signs that were there that they ignored.

    Don’t do it Phillies – be disciplined and look elsewhere to upgrade.

    He’s neve going to be worth the contract.

    • Matthew Veasey

      February 21, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      I obviously disagree with your conclusion on Harper. As to the injury aspect, most of that was early in his career before he stopped running head-first into outfield walls. In the three of the last four years, Harper has played 153, 147, 159 games. He is NOT “injury prone” in any way. WAR is not the be-all and end-all statistic. One Phillies regular last year, Rhys Hoskins, had an OPS over the .800 mark. Harper has been over it each of the last four seasons. Two Phillies reached 24 HR and 86 RBI last year, Hoskins (96) and Santana (86) – Harper has reached or bettered those marks each of the last four seasons. One Phillies regular, Cesar, stole more than 10 bags. Harper stole 13 last year. Hoskins is the only Phillies regular to reach 30 doubles in 2018. Harper has done it twice in the last four, and hit 29 another year. Also of note, Harper is just 26 years of age – just beginning his “prime” seasons.

      • czontixhldr

        February 21, 2019 at 11:30 pm

        Yes, we obviously disagree. My main point is he will never be worth IMO the money he wants and will probably get. MLB is littered with contract that were given to guys that have not panned out, and this has the makings of another one.

        That’s why I walk away. I’m not against spending the money – I just think it’s foolish to concentrate 30+ million in someone like Bryce Harper.

        And BTW, he’s only averaged 142 games the last 4 years. You’re a very good writer and I enjoy reading your articles, but don’t cherry pick only the years he was on the field. In one of the last 4 seasons he only played 111 games. For a guy to get paid like he wants, he should be on the field 155+ games per season.

        In short – he’s being paid to PLAY – not sit on the DL for 20-30 games per season.

        Machado has been – that’s why I wanted him and not Harper.

        • schmenkman

          February 22, 2019 at 4:32 pm

          The “cherry pick” comment isn’t fair here, he very clearly said 3 of the 4 years, leaving no doubt about the 4th.

          A 142 game average over the last 4 years is not that unusual. After all, only 6 MLB oufielders have averaged 150+.

          • czontixhldr

            February 22, 2019 at 10:34 pm

            OK, I will bite. Shouldn’t a guy who is asking for the largest FA contract in MLB history be one of those 6 outfielders?

            I purposely didn’t go farther back in his career to be fair to Matt. The FACT is, Harper has averaged only 132 games per season throughout his career. That’s even worse.

            I struggle with Matt and your issue with my objection: I am not against signing Bryce Harper. I AM against signing him to a contract to which I do not think his performance and time on the field will live up to.

            We can discuss hypotheticals all day, but if he would agree to a very high but fair base pay with incentives that would make him the highest paid player in the history of the game – I would be OK with that.

            But I am not comfortable hanging a potential contract like he wants around the neck of the franchise, because I do not believe he is a consistent enough player to live up to it.

          • Matthew Veasey

            February 24, 2019 at 12:18 pm

            A bit of a disingenuous stat, saying he “has averaged only 132 games per season” in his career. Harper was running into walls as a kid. Since being cured of that bad habit he has played 153, 147, 159 in three of the last four. Has averaged 142.5 games over those four seasons. His lowest OPS during those four seasons has been .814, which is higher than everyone but Hoskins who played regularly for the Phillies last season. And three of the four seasons were much higher. He will more than pay for his salary in increased interest, ticket sales, ad revenue, concessions, etc. You may not be comfortable with it, but if he signs, you should get comfortable and just relax and enjoy the show.

  2. czontixhldr

    February 20, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    don’t know what happened above – but that’s embarrasing.

    • lou possehl

      February 23, 2019 at 3:31 pm

      We start out with the premise that Harper is clearly worth “multi-year; very high”. Let’s say that “very high” represents $300 million, plus a few million on top of that to make Harper happy as the “winner” over Machado. Then there’s the question of whether Middleton is willing to pay beyond “very high”, and into unchartered $$$ territory. What is the impact of paying beyond “very high”?

      To me this last question is the real issue. If the dollar impact of a Harper record-setting package were to hobble the Phillies from making another major deal – this year or next – then that would be too much to pay. (To be a top club, let’s say that the Phillies need one more ace to go along with Nola.) But if it doesn’t? In a real sense, if some “beyond very high” figure is OK with Middleton, then who cares? The statisticians among us can spend the next 10 years calculating Harper’s WAR and OPS and whatever – and whether, in their determination, it all added up to a good deal. But preoccupation with stats can lose sight of the fact that, in any reasonable scenario, the addition of a 26-yr-old Harper adds a huge bat to the lineup – thus making the whole club better for a LONG time – and adds intangibles like sending a message to the league and its best players that the Phillies are serious about this sh*t – about not just being better, but about going to a WS.

      If the Phillies are willing to pay the price of a Harper big contract – and so long as that contract does NOT serve as a financial millstone going forward – then do it.

      • Matthew Veasey

        February 24, 2019 at 12:11 pm

        The Phillies would not be hobbled by signing Harper. They have Cesar, Hunter, Nicasio coming off the books at a total $26 million savings for next year. Adding Harper at say $35 million per season AAV would put them on the hook for about $116-120 million next year. They’re fine.

  3. jeffrey m orbach

    February 23, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    Klentak has succeeded in the fact that I don’t care anymore. If we don’t get Harper , it won’t bother me as long as he doesn’t go to someone in our division. I consider the off-season a success because we got Realmuto , I felt last year that our catching was the worst, now it’s going to be the best.

    • Matthew Veasey

      February 24, 2019 at 12:06 pm

      That’s a reasonable way to look at things. The off-season has indeed already been a success. The club is indeed better than last year. Realmuto is a major upgrade behind the dish for sure. Is it enough to truly push for a playoff spot? Maybe. But you should care about getting Harper. His is the kind of talent that, combined with the other additions, can push the club over the top. We’ll see what happens.

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