CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies remained in full-steam-ahead pursuit of Bryce Harper on Sunday and they seem to be the favorite to land him. It is not clear which teams the Phillies might be competing with as this drama reaches an apex, but there are reports of other clubs still being in the mix.
There is a feeling around baseball that the Harper derby could reach the finish line sometime this week. Opening day arrives a month from Thursday and Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, are both smart enough to realize that the player will need to get into camp to get the necessary at-bats to be ready for the start of the season. Teams that have been chasing Harper are also ready for this thing to be over.
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Throughout the offseason, Boras has been looking for a record-setting deal for his client. That probably means something more than the $325 million guarantee that Giancarlo Stanton got from the Miami Marlins in his 2014 contract extension.
It is not clear how high the Phillies will go in their bidding for Harper, but they are well aware of his goals. Managing partner John Middleton spent Friday night and part of Saturday meeting with Harper and Boras in the player's hometown of Las Vegas. It has likely reached the point where the Phillies will make their best play for Harper or look to play with the team they have already assembled.
If the Phillies land Harper, they will have succeeded in putting together a deep lineup that should score runs. The lineup had already gotten better with the addition of Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto and Harper in the middle would add some serious thunder. He would come to town with 184 career homers. Only 11 players in the history of the game had more than that through their age-25 season. Harper turned 26 in October.
You've probably already doodled some potential Phillies lineups with Harper in it.
Here's one to ponder:
2B Cesar Hernandez
SS Jean Segura
RF Bryce Harper
1B Rhys Hoskins
C J.T. Realmuto
LF Andrew McCutchen
3B Maikel Franco
CF Odubel Herrera
Other possible lineups will emerge as the spring goes on and some could include Roman Quinn in center field. Whatever the case, if Harper is here, he will bat in a spotlight place and play right field.
It's no secret that Major League Baseball is considering a number of rule changes that could be implemented in coming seasons.
Some of these rule changes would seem to benefit Harper and the Phillies if a marriage occurs.
Harper would come to Philadelphia on a long-term deal. Adding the designated hitter to the National League could help preserve his body and keep him productive late in the deal.
There is also talk of reducing, or eliminating altogether, infield shifts. (Ryan Howard votes yes.) According to Sports Illustrated, over the past three seasons, shifts tripled against Harper and cost him 51 points off his batting average on balls in play up the middle or pulled.
There is also talk that, to speed up the game, baseball will require a reliever to face at least three batters. Put enough right-handed sticks around Harper and the Phils could make opposing managers think twice about bringing in a lefty specialist against Harper.
Adding the DH and a three-batter minimum for relievers would further marginalize a manager's impact on games, but it might help a Phillies team that includes Harper.
This is all stuff to think about down the road.
Right now, the Phillies are still trying to land Harper and it sure feels like this thing could reach the finish line one way or another this week.
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