Add another team to the list of those pursuing Bryce Harper — a list that could be as big as 10 franchises, or actually as small as one or two, and now includes the San Francisco Giants after they reportedly met with the free agent outfielder in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Early February is turning to mid-February, the start of spring training is less than a week away, and the Harper sweepstakes — crowned as "Harper's bazaar" way back in the innocent month of November — has become, well, just bizarre. The teams interested in the 26-year-old, based on media reports and people with knowledge of the situation, look to be the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, San Diego Padres and the Giants, as of this week. The Padres reportedly met with Harper in Las Vegas last week, and have baseball's best farm system and a lot of money to spend. The Giants' meeting with Harper, according to multiple reports, included new President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi and other team executives. After that, the Phillies met with Harper in January, the Nationals' last known meeting with took place the Saturday before Christmas, and the White Sox seem more interested in Manny Machado, another 26-year-old star free agent who does yet have a team for 2019.
With every argument made for a team to sign Harper — starting with his age and status as one of baseball's most feared hitters — there seems to be at least one counterpoint. That is no different with San Francisco. The Giants are often willing to spend and could see a future path to contention through the National League West, even if it seems crowded by the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies heading into this season. But the Giants have an aging core and a bulk of their payroll is committed to bloated contracts. If one of Harper's desires is to join a team that will contend right away, the Giants don't feel like the right match. Neither do the Padres. Nor the White Sox.
And that all leads to maybe the murkiest aspect of this dragging free agency: What Harper wants, and what he can get. It was once thought that Harper could land a decade-long contract that would pay him anywhere between $300 million and $400 million. Now it's not clear what he can demand or if any team is willing to invest that much money in him for more than a few years. If he wants to set records, the biggest deal in baseball history was Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million extension, and Zack Grienke has the highest annual average value ever at more than $34 million. But neither figure may be attainable now, as Harper's only known offer (10 years, $300 million) came from the Nationals at the end of September. That deal expired once free agency began and the Nationals began to spend as if Harper would not return. That was sometime around Oct. 29.
There have surely been discussions of other terms since then, but they have not floated out from behind closed doors. That has only made Harper's situation even more confusing, as there is often some noise generated through the media to drive up prices and create bidding wars between teams. But not this time? Not for a free agency that's been talked about ever since Harper broke into the league as a 19-year-old prodigy with no limit to his potential? Not for a former rookie of the year, MVP, baseball's rare marketable star who, by all indications, still has a prime to play through?
No. It would make anyone wonder which teams are really in on Harper, and which are jumping on board because his market has crystallized into this, dotting their i's and crossing their t's in case a favorable deal should fall into their lap. His ongoing free agency, and Machado's, has stalled the market in a year that teams are unwilling to commit to most players beyond a year or two, and talents including Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Moustakas and Marwin Gonzalez remain unsigned. There is talk of collusion among owners, rule changes to create a free agent window or spending floor for noncompetitive teams, the consensus that what was once supposed to be a momentous offseason for baseball has had the opposite effect. And yet there has been limited talk of what's really going on with Harper, oddly enough, outside of a small handful of teams and his recent meeting with the Giants.
It doesn't feel like a logical destination for Harper. But who's to say, at this point of the calendar, that the Giants don't have as good a chance as any team to land him?