9:55pm: Harper’s camp actually negotiated with two teams in Las Vegas on Saturday, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network. It’s not clear who was vying against the Phillies, though, nor is it known whether the other club made any progress in talks.
9:41pm: Middleton is still in Vegas, and there’s “optimism” the Phillies and Harper will finalize a 10-year deal by Monday afternoon, Nightengale reports.
9:19pm: Middleton’s plane is returning to the East Coast, but the two sides had a “busy day of meetings” and talks will continue, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly tweets.
8:39pm: The Phillies are engaged in “deep and serious negotiations” with free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. Team owner John Middleton, who’s meeting with Harper’s camp in Las Vegas, doesn’t want to leave without a deal in place, according to Nightengale.
The Vegas-based meeting between the Phillies and Team Harper, which also includes agent Scott Boras, is their second summit since Jan. 10. After the sides’ initial sitdown, Nightengale named Philadelphia as the favorite to sign Harper, which has remained the case in the ensuing weeks. Now, with the season fast approaching and the current class’ other elite free agent, Manny Machado, having come off the board this week, a resolution for Harper may finally be on the way.
Machado’s months-long stay on the open market came to an end when he accepted the Padres’ 10-year, $300MM offer. The Phillies also had interest in Machado, but they weren’t willing to approach the Padres’ proposal, leaving Harper as the clear-cut best free agent available. Having watched Machado come off the board, the Phillies “will be much more reluctant to walk away” from Harper, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer relayed this week.
Whether with the Phillies or another team, Harper seemingly has a good chance to exceed Machado’s guarantee – the largest ever given to a free agent. However, the 26-year-old Harper’s market hasn’t quite come together as expected this offseason, evidenced in part by his unemployed status as March nears. Aside from the Phillies, who entered the offseason promising to spend (which they’ve done, albeit nowhere close to “stupid” amounts), the Nationals, White Sox, Padres and Giants have shown varying levels of interest in Harper. Among that group, Philly easily looks like the most aggressive team in the race. Although Harper has spent his entire career in Washington, where he has starred, team owner Mark Lerner painted a bleak picture Friday when asked if the Nationals would re-sign him. Meanwhile, the White Sox may not even bid on Harper, the Padres don’t appear to be serious suitors, and the Giants are shying away from a long-term commitment.
All things considered, it seems the stars are aligning for the Phillies to land their coveted target after months of chasing him. While the Phillies haven’t finished above .500 in a season since 2011 and are mired in a seven-year playoff drought, they’re making a strong push to contend in 2019. Regardless of what happens with Harper, Philadelphia has already made major improvements this offseason by acquiring catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and reliever David Robertson. But there’s still plenty of room for Harper, a Hall of Fame-level talent who could help propel the franchise back to relevance.