CLEARWATER, Fla. - A helicopter hovered over the back fields of the Carpenter Complex one day this past week, grabbing the attention of a group of Phillies players as they went through their morning stretches before another day of workouts.
“We were joking, saying it would it be funny if he just landed here and got out,” Andrew McCutchen said.
McCutchen did not have to define who he was as the biggest name in Phillies camp continues to be Bryce Harper, the superstar outfielder who is not here but could soon be. All eyes shifted Friday from a helicopter to John Middleton’s private jet — white with a red "P" on the tail — as it sat on the tarmac near Harper’s home in Las Vegas.
The Phillies had a busy offseason, molding last season’s young roster into a team that seems set to compete for a division title. But they have yet to add the superstar whom this winter was built around. The Phillies continued to feel confident that they will land Harper.
Middleton, motivated to add a superstar to his team, flew to Vegas on Friday to meet with Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, for the second time in six weeks. Middleton has made it his mission to sign Harper, and the Phillies do not think he will come up empty.
“It changes the team. It changes a lot for whatever team that he’s on,” McCutchen said.
“We feel like we have a really good team here. The Phillies have done a good job of getting some guys over here, getting Jean Segura, getting J.T. Realmuto, getting David Robertson. It’s a great team here and he’s only going to make it better. It would be amazing.”
The addition of Harper would transform the Phillies from a division contender into a pennant contender. Baseball Prospectus projects the Phillies to have 85 wins, which would be tied with the Braves for third place in the division. Harper would increase their projected win total by five, which would give the Phillies the second-best projection in the National League.
McCutchen has played in the postseason with the Pirates and Yankees. He’s a former MVP and All-Star. Does he believe Harper would transform the Phillies into a team with pennant aspirations?
McCutchen said the Phillies “definitely have the ability to do that.”
“You can have a great, talented team, but if you don’t have this,” McCutchen said as he locked his hands together, “then you’re not going to win. I don’t know if there’s ever been one team that won a championship that didn’t have this. This is always the final piece of the puzzle.
"I think we’ll do a good job. We have some great guys here and we’ll be able to develop those relationships. This is the time to do it.”
Middleton used his private jet last March to fly Jake Arrieta from his physical in Philadelphia to spring training in Clearwater. The team’s front office was waiting on the tarmac at the St. Petersburg airport as Middleton and Arrieta walked down the steps of the plane. It was quite the statement, and the owner sent another message Friday when his jet touched down in Vegas.
“I think it’s a message frankly to everybody,” Middleton said last year about signing Arrieta. “ ... I want the coaching staff, I want the front office, I want the fans, I want other players, I want even other baseball organizations, to know we’re serious about winning and we’re going to do what it takes to win. That’s what I think.”