CARLSBAD, Calif. — It was the Bryce Harper show Wednesday, or as agent Scott Boras cleverly called it, “Harper’s Bazaar.’’
It has nothing to do with the fashion industry, and everything to do with a man who’s about to become the richest player in baseball history, unless fellow free agent Manny Machado happens to topple him.
“It’s fashionable,’’ Boras said. “It’s historical. It’s elite. Global certainly. It has inspirations that deal with great shoes and great hair, inspirations on the part of Bryce.’’
The free agent outfielder, touted to be more popular than the Liberty Bell, looks to be headed to Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly Love.
It appeared all along that Harper would remain in Washington, where he has spent his entire career. But that was before word leaked Tuesday that he flatly rejected a 10-year, $300 million contract in September.
You can eliminate the rest of the suitors, too.
The Chicago Cubs don’t want to spend the money unless someone takes Jason Heyward or Yu Darvish off their hands.
The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t have interest.
The St. Louis Cardinals don’t have bright lights.
The San Francisco Giants are changing course.
It leaves one team for Harper, which won’t mind giving him at least $400 million.
The Phillies are the most desperate team to land a star, and with Machado wanting to go to the New York Yankees, and the Yankees having the greatest need for him, Philadelphia is the logical destination for Harper.
He will be standing in right field with the Phillies on March 28 at Citizens Bank Park when they open the season against the defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves.
Bank on it.
It’s hard to find an executive, scout, or rival agent who doesn’t believe that Harper will eventually sign with the Phillies, maybe a month from now when he can drive from his Las Vegas home to Mandalay Bay and make the official announcement himself.
The Nationals seemed to be the favorite until two baseball officials told USA TODAY Sports that the offer made Sept. 26 had been turned down. The offer would have made Harper the highest-paid active player in baseball, behind Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract signed four years ago when he was a Miami Marlin.
Now, the Nationals say the offer is off the table. They gave it their best, and when there was not a single counter offer, the Nationals were prepared to walk away.
Yes, even if it means seeing Harper 19 times a year when they play Philadelphia.
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Talks can still resume, of course, but the Nationals are trying to sign at least one starting pitcher and a catcher in free agency. They don’t want to be left with voids if Harper departs.
Yet, they are making it clear they have no intention of giving Harper his preferred 13-year deal – and certainly not with an annual average salary of $40 million a year.
Barring a sudden change of heart, they will go with an outfield of Juan Soto, Adam Eaton and Victor Robles, and use that extra money to beef up the rest of their team.
“I’m comfortable with the alternative,’’ Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said, “but I’m uncomfortable with the statement that we’re a better team without him.’’
Harper and agent Scott Boras certainly are comfortable with walking away too. They are seeking a deal that pays more than Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke’s $34.42 million average annual salary, along with Stanton’s $325 million extension.
This is a player, Boras told nearly 100 reporters Wednesday, that can single-handedly turn around a franchise. Boras educated everyone on the 600,000 annual attendance increase since Harper’s arrival, the tripling of their TV rates, and the franchise value increasing from $480 million to $2 billion.
So who wouldn’t want the cash cow, Boras said, of the only player who produced a 1.100 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) since his arrival in 2010? And the only player since Hall of Famer George Brett to accomplish the feat since the 1980s, when you discount the steroid era?
“You have an iconic player,’’ Boras said. “For an owner to know the rocket ship of economic opportunity is just blasting off because the player is just entering the prime of his career. You’re really talking about a unique and rare opportunity. …
“He’s almost a lock to be a Hall of Fame player.’’
Boras knows that someone will pay the price he seeks, and while no one can completely count out the Cardinals or even the Giants, who were willing to assume the bulk of Stanton’s contract a year ago, the Phillies are going to be the ones who pay the biggest contract in baseball history for his services.
This is the splash the Phillies want for a team that ranked just 21st in runs scored, 24th in OPS, and last in virtually every defensive metric.
And they have the money. Just Scott Kingery and Odubel Herrera are signed past the 2020 season.
The Phillies aren’t blinking.
This is the player they want.
This is the player they’re going to get.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale
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