Bryce Harper just launched his tenure as the Phillies’ biggest star, but he’s already considering how to use his gravitational pull to the team’s advantage. In an interview yesterday with Philadelphia SportsRadio 94WIP, Harper made clear he intends to help the Phils land another big fish in free agency:
“If you don’t think I’m gonna call Mike Trout to come to Philly in 2020, you’re crazy.”
That comment was sufficient to spur the Angels to raise the matter with Major League Baseball, Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times reports. The league has been in touch with both teams and is looking into the matter, per ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan (Twitter link). Unsurprisingly, “significant discipline” is not anticipated.
Tampering is prohibited by operation of MLB Rule 3(k), which prohibits “negotiations or dealings respecting employment, either present or prospective, between any player, coach or manager and any Major or Minor League Club other than the Club with which the player is under contract.”
While Harper’s comments seem innocuous enough on the surface, they are of the same ilk as others that have drawn some rebuke in the past. David Ortiz received a warning letter from the from the commissioner’s office after advocating for Edwin Encarnacion to replace him as the Red Sox’ DH. The Yankees admonished Aaron Judge for telling Manny Machado he’d “look good in pinstripes.”
Those situations didn’t warrant a fine, though that avenue is available to commissioner Rob Manfred. The National Basketball Association has doled out penalties and issued stern words on the subject, a reflection of the fact that the league’s fundamental player market structure — more star-driven with shorter, more heavily regulated contracts — is more susceptible to actual interference.
What action will be taken in Harper’s case, if any, remains to be seen and resides largely in Manfred’s discretion. It’s hard to imagine that Harper’s words are of much real-world import, though perhaps there’s cause to nip things in the bud. For the Halos, the last thing they want to see is a two-year-long public recruiting pitch from Harper and others as they try to figure out a way to keep Trout in town for the rest of his career. And for the league, there’s an interest in preventing even this sort of mild tampering from becoming a more frequent issue.
Structuring a penalty that actually disincentivizes these kinds of public comments would be tricky. Any symbolic punishment of Harper would serve only to further publicize his comments. It might also ingratiate him to his new fans in Philly, who are already themselves pining for Trout. A warning letter may seem toothless, but it’s perhaps the most sensible formal action for Manfred to take in this case.