PHOENIX — The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t really need him, but suddenly badly want him. The San Francisco Giants may not win with him, but he can be their greatest one-man marketing act since Barry Bonds. The Philadelphia Phillies may be the most desperate to acquire him, but no matter how much money they offer, are beginning to wonder if it even matters.
Agent Scott Boras, starting to receive the offers he envisioned when Bryce Harper’s free agency began 117 days ago, has begun circling back with other teams in recent days, three people with direct knowledge of the negotiations told USA TODAY Sports, seeing if they are in or out in the final hand of this high-stakes poker game.
These people, who declined to speak publicly since talks are on-going, have been told the Dodgers, Giants and Phillies have vowed to provide Harper with either the biggest overall free-agent contract in North American sports history, or the largest average annual salary anyone has ever received in the sport.
The Phillies and Giants have offered 10-year contracts worth at least $300 million, while the Dodgers have discussed a shorter-term contract that would obliterate Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke’s $34.3 million average salary.
Gentlemen, start your paychecks.
It has been nearly impossible to handicap these protracted Harper sweepstakes all winter, but the tables have now been turned, with ownership from the Phillies, Dodgers and Giants all meeting with Harper and Boras in the last six days.
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The Phillies, considered the heavy favorites all winter, still have the highest offer on the table, but may now be on the outside looking in. They are beginning to wonder whether Harper would sign ever there, no matter how much money they keep offering.
There have been a litany of theories as to why Harper is hesitant — anything from the city itself, playing for manager Gabe Kapler, avoiding facing his former team (the Washington Nationals) 18 times a year, to eluding the steep expectations of an intense fanbase. The truth may never be told, but the Phillies’ confidence in signing him perhaps is at its lowest point all winter.
The Giants, whose offseason plan was to launch a rebuilding process while still trying to remain competitive, have done a 180 in their thinking. They fired GM Bobby Evans and hired Farhan Zaidi this winter to lead their vision for a team that has won only 137 out of their last 324 games. Now, panic and desperation about season-ticket sales and fan interest has become the overriding factor. This is no longer a baseball decision, but strictly an ownership pursuit.
The Dodgers, who had shown no interest in Harper, even signing A.J. Pollock to a five-year, $60 million contract last month, have made the most dramatic foray into the picture. They still are adamant about not giving Harper a 10-year deal, but realize that if they offer the highest annual salary for at least five years, they now have his attention.
The Dodgers’ need for Harper is much less than the Phillies or Giants. They have won six consecutive NL West titles and back-to-back pennants while drawing more fans than any team in baseball. Yet, they suddenly are considered the favorites to land Harper.
The Dodgers may not provide the greatest financial windfall, but they happen to be an iconic franchise that’s close to Harper’s home and reside in the second-largest market in the country. They’ve got Hollywood and all of its glorious marketing opportunities, with the opportunity of being part of a dynasty.
The finish line, with Boras now reaching out to teams one final time to see where they stand, finally is near.
They’ve been the negotiations that have captivated our attention all winter and spring, so come on, what’s a few more days of intrigue?
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