Enough is enough.
As Matt Breen pointed out, today is day 119 of baseball free agency, or as I call it; Major League Baseball Held Hostage: Day 119. The Phillies have been a front-runner from day one and have reportedly offered Harper what he wanted; a long-term deal with an average annual salary over $30-million per year. Other teams have balked at the length of the deal or the money, but the Phillies have not.
They seemingly shifted their focus from Manny Machado being their prime target to Harper, long before Machado signed last week with the Padres. Machado’s agent, Dan Lazano gave the Phillies one last chance to beat the deal the Padres were offering and the Phillies declined. It signaled that their focus had shifted. Had Lazano sought that deal from the Phillies early on in free agency, it might have been there, but last week, it wasn’t.
Phillies owner John Middleton flew back to Las Vegas late last week to speak again with Harper and his agent, Scott Boras. He got back on the plane alone and flew back to Clearwater without Harper in tow. If he’s smart, his last words to Harper should have been “good luck to you and I hope you enjoy playing wherever you wind up, because it’s not going to be in Philadelphia.”
Why should the Phillies walk away? If Harper really wanted to play in Philadelphia, this would have ended by this past weekend at the latest. The Phillies had proved their interest in Harper, had offered him what he wanted, traveled to Las Vegas to meet with him – twice – and he was still seeking something better. Rhys Hoskins, a fellow Boras client, spoke with Harper and told him about Philadelphia. Newcomers Andrew McCutchen and J.T. Realmuto spoke to Harper through the media, saying that they wanted him to join them in Philadelphia.
Basically, the Phillies have done everything right and have danced to the tune that Harper and Boras played. Now, teams are in camp, spring training games are underway and Harper is still making teams crawl to him in Sin City. No sooner was Middleton out the door when the Dodgers, who have been tepid at best towards Harper, came strolling in to speak with his highness.
If Harper doesn’t want to play in Philadelphia, that’s fine. Let’s face it, if any one of us were as talented as he is, we would probably have cities that we wouldn’t want to play in either; I know I would. Harper is a Vegas boy and wants to play on the west coast, which makes a bunch of sense. Just say that. If where you play is more important than the length of contract and/or the money, that’s a very reasonable and responsible position. Life’s short, be happy. Take the short-term deal the Giants offered. Or when the Padres were interested, sign on with them. Now, the Dodgers have dipped their toe in the water after showing little to no interest in Harper all through the 119 day soap opera.
At this point, the only involvement that Harper wants from the Phillies is as a foil to help drive up what he’s going to get from a west coast team. No thank you, Bryce. Good luck with that.
The Phillies have put the rest of their potential moves – signing Dallas Keuchel and/or Craig Kimbrel – on hold. It’s worth noting that Boras and Harper are also holding up fellow Boras client Keuchel. Now, it’s time for the Phillies to put in a call to Kimbrel, apologize for putting him on hold for so long and talk money. As nicely as Harper would have fit into the Phillies lineup, Kimbrel would fit into their bullpen. You could also fire a shot across the bow of Harper and tell Boras that they are no longer interested in Harper, but are interested in Keuchel.
Would spurning Harper cause a second rift between the Phillies and Boras? It might. At some level though, Harper and Boras have to realize that the Phillies aren’t in this to play games. They truly have done all they could. They also don’t have to make this a public spurning. A simple phone call – or perhaps, as suggested, Middleton already delivered the message – followed by a call to Kimbrel. Or, there’s the possibility of saving face with Boras and signing Keuchel.
The bottom line is that this has gone on long enough and the Phillies are being played for a fool. It’s time to quietly walk away and perhaps look for other free agents who might help. There’s also the possibility of a trade. Make the Angels an offer they can’t refuse to get Mike Trout in Philadelphia now rather than waiting for his free agency following the 2020 season.