Feb. 2, 2:53pm: Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the San Diego brass sees Harper as a “business/marketing opportunity” and “may now lean” toward securing his services over those of Manny Machado, despite their obvious need at 3B and swarm of young, controllable corner outfielders.
Jan. 31, 11:24pm: Acee has an update on tonight’s meeting, in which Padres general partner Peter Seidler joined GM A.J. Preller and skipper Andy Green to make the pitch. Per the report, the San Diego contingent was “extremely prepared and seemed sincere about wooing” Harper.
11:40am: The Padres’ entry into the Harper bidding is more “extended due diligence,” and is not as serious as their interest in Machado, writes Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The surprising lack of suitors for Harper has helped to fuel San Diego’s interest, he adds.
Meanwhile, Rosenthal tweets that the meeting will take place tonight. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi calls the Padres one of four suitors for Harper, alongside the Phillies, White Sox and Nationals, noting that one other club remains “on [the] periphery” (Twitter link).
10:44am: The Padres will meet with free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper in Las Vegas today or tomorrow, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter links). Padres ownership is “expected” to be represented at the meeting, and Rosenthal further notes that Harper and agent Scott Boras have met with other teams “in recent days,” though there’s still no signs that a deal close.
The news of a meeting with Harper comes on the heels of last week’s report that the Padres are pursuing Manny Machado and planning a similar sitdown with him, although MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted last night that the Padres/Machado meeting has still not taken place. Nevertheless, the Padres’ surprise emergence as a potential suitor for the market’s top two free agents is of note, and the very fact that in-person meetings are being scheduled shows a level of interest that many teams throughout the league have not expressed.
Outfield isn’t exactly an area of need for the Friars, who already have Wil Myers, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Franmil Reyes and Travis Jankowski on the roster. Harper, though, would nonetheless represent an upgrade in right field and would further allow the Padres to explore the trades of younger, controllable outfielders. It’s also possible that Harper’s market hasn’t progressed to the level that San Diego initially expected, and ownership has agreed to a meeting to determine whether there’s a plausible fit. The Padres did sign another high-profile Boras client, Eric Hosmer, to an eight-year deal worth $144MM last winter, and the organization surely feels it is now closer to contending than it was at that point, even if doing so in 2019 is a long shot (with or without Harper).
The Hosmer contract was already a significant expenditure for the typically conservative Padres, and signing either Harper or Machado would represent next-level spending the likes of which has never been seen by the organization and its fans. However, as I noted last week when looking at how Machado could fit into the payroll, it might not be as difficult as many would think for the Padres to accommodate an annual salary of $30MM+ (Harper spurned a 10-year, $300MM offer from the Nationals that has reportedly since been increased).
Myers and Hosmer are the only long-term contracts on the books for the Padres, and Hosmer’s contract was heavily front-loaded. While he’s earning $21MM annually for the next four seasons, Hosmer’s salary will drop to $13MM per year from 2023-25. Myers is owed $5.5MM in 2019 and $22.5MM in each of the three subsequent seasons, although the Padres have been trying to offload that contract for awhile anyhow.
Even speculatively penciling in a hefty $34MM annual rate of pay for Harper and assuming that the organization is unable to trade Myers, there’d only be three seasons in which the Padres were on the hook for all of those salaries. Combined, those three would equal $77.5MM — a huge sum for three players by San Diego’s standards, but come 2023 they’d be paying Harper and Hosmer under $50MM combined with Myers off the books. And, given the Padres’ deluge of oncoming talent from one of the game’s top-ranked farm systems, it’s likely that Harper and Hosmer could be largely surrounded by pre-arbitration players. Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias and Francisco Mejia could all potentially join Harper and Hosmer as regulars in that theoretical lineup by the end of the 2019 season.
None of that is to say that a deal between the two sides is likely, but the financial component may be far easier to navigate than many would expect upon first glance. The meeting is just one step in what would surely be an arduous negotiation process, but it seems clear that current Padres ownership is at least open to the possibility of high-level spending before its hopeful core emerges at the big league level.