PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The Phillies, days after ramping up their pursuit of Bryce Harper, received a jolt of confidence Friday morning after the Washington Nationals declared themselves out of the race for the services of the free-agent superstar.
Nationals owner Mark Lerner told NBC Sports Washington that the team does not expect to bring back Harper. The Phillies, according to a source, continue to feel confident they will sign Harper. Phillies owner John Middleton, as first reported by NBC Sports Philadelphia, flew to Las Vegas on Friday afternoon to meet with Harper and his agent Scott Boras.
The saga once seemed destined to drag into March, but negotiations are starting to point towards a decision this month, if not sooner.
“We’ve moved on,” Lerner said. “As I said back then and we had to. There was no way we could wait around. Bryce, I’m sure will make his decision hopefully in the next few days, but we’ve filled out our roster and like I said, we wish him nothing but the best."
The Phillies, motivated after being outbid earlier this week by San Diego for Manny Machado, have recently intensified their negotiations with Harper and Boras. Middleton, four months after saying the Phillies could spend “a little stupid” this offseason, is driven to begin the season with a superstar on his roster. That is why he flew Friday to Vegas. Middleton and the Phillies are fully aware of what the fan base’s reaction would be if they whiffed on both Machado and Harper.
The team’s offer to Machado was well shy of the $300 million, 10-year-deal he landed from the Padres. But, a source said the Phillies have been more aggressive towards Harper, who is expected to net a bigger contract than Machado.
The market for that decision continues to move in the Phillies’ favor. If the Nationals, considered the favorite to land Harper when the offseason began, are out, that would leave the San Francisco Giants as the Phillies’ clearest competitor. The White Sox, according to Chicago radio station 670 The Score, are not pursuing Harper after they failed to sign Manny Machado.
The Giants are tentative about signing Harper to a long-term deal, and it continues to seem unlikely that Harper and Boras would accept a short-term contract. The Phillies now see themselves as the favorite.
The Padres were in on Harper, but it is hard to imagine them adding another mega-contract after signing Machado this week and committing $144 million to Eric Hosmer last year. Padres general manager A.J. Preller said the team “has a lot of answers from within” when he was asked Friday at Machado’s introductory news conference if the team would be adding another marquee player.
The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year contract worth $300 million at the end of last season, the same value that Machado earned this week from San Diego. Harper turned down the deal, and the Nationals signed lefthander Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract. It was hard to imagine that Washington had the money to add Harper. Lerner said the “door’s cracked a little bit” for Harper to return, but the door seems to be opening wider by the day for Harper to arrive in Philadelphia.