CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies owner John Middleton returned to Clearwater on Monday afternoon, as the pressure intensified on the team to land Bryce Harper.
Middleton, who flew across the state from his Palm Beach home Monday on his private jet, declined comment after he entered the team’s complex. He said he will talk once the Harper saga is complete.
The Phillies’ confidence in signing Harper was tested Monday morning when they learned that Middleton’s weekend visit to Las Vegas was followed by a Sunday night visit from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phillies, after emerging last week as the favorite to land Harper, have some competition.
Harper has longed to play for the Dodgers, but it is unclear if they pose a real threat or are being used as a ploy for the Phillies to improve their offer. Playing in Los Angeles would put Harper close to home and provide him the bright lights of Hollywood.
But the Dodgers, according to a report by The Athletic, are interested in signing Harper to a short-team deal and not the long-term pact that he has sought all winter. As Harper’s market continues to drag, the Dodgers could see an opening to slide in with a contract that is short on years but carries a high annual-average value.
Boras is set on getting his client a bigger deal than the $300 million, 10-year contract that Manny Machado signed Friday with the San Diego Padres. If the Phillies fail to beat that, then Boras and Harper can still claim a victory if the Dodgers give them a short-team deal that pays more than $30 million per year.
Middleton’s visit with Harper was his second trip to Vegas in six weeks. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters in Arizona that the team’s trip Sunday night was its first meeting with Harper. Roberts was asked how he felt about L.A.'s chances of signing Harper and said, “I’m not too hopeful or anything. It’s just talk. It’s just conversation.”
The Phillies believe they are the highest bidder for Harper and they were confident they would end this saga with Harper on their roster. Middleton left Vegas on Sunday night without a deal, but a source said the meeting was still productive.
The Nationals said last Friday that they had moved on from Harper. The Padres were unlikely to add another high-priced player after already having three players who will earn at least $20 million next year, the White Sox lacked the financial resources, and the Giants were reluctant to make a long-term offer.
And then the Dodgers, who were considered favorites to land Harper in December before backing off, re-entered the fray. The Phillies, in what can be considered their worst-case scenario, are suddenly competing against Harper’s dream destination. The Phillies might have the most money, but that is no longer enough to label them the clear favorite.