Tag Archives: Hot Stove League

With Zack Wheeler on board, updating the latest Phillies rumors

The Baseball Winter Meetings open on Sunday, December 8 in San Diego and the ‘Hot Stove’ season in Major League Baseball is already fully underway with hot new rumors coming out every day.

The Philadelphia Phillies were expected to be one of the most active teams in free agency and perhaps in the trade market as well during this off-season period.

With his job squarely on the line, general manager Matt Klentak is under the spotlight, tasked with filling a number of holes in order to elevate his now .500 team to a genuine 2020 contender.

The Phillies landed one of the top starting pitchers on the free agent market in right-hander Zack Wheeler. Reports this afternoon are that he will receive a five-year contract with a total value at over $110 million.

There were also reports that Wheeler had received a higher offer from the Chicago White Sox than the $118 million total dollars which he will receive from the Phillies.

However, Wheeler’s wife is a Jersey girl, and that appears to have been a decisive factor once the offers were relatively close. The Phillies also beat out the Chisox for Bryce Harper last off-season.

The Phillies have been linked to a number of top free agent names to this point. They cannot possibly land every big name that the fan base is hoping to add. However, they surely will be successful in luring at least one or two talented veterans.

Let’s take a quick look at the very latest rumors involving the Phillies interest and involvement in the pursuit of the most interesting players available.

Starting Pitchers

Cole Hamels – He was “the people’s choice”, as Phillies fans wanted him back. Hamels also telegraphed that he wanted to return and was willing to settle for a one-year deal to return to the club with whom he starred for a decade.

It turns out that he got that deal – but from the division-rival Atlanta Braves. It was announced this afternoon that Hamels and the Braves had agreed to a one-year, $18 million deal.

Time to turn the page here, Phillies fans. We’ll get to cheer him again one day at his Wall of Fame ceremony. But before then, count on him getting booed strongly next season at Citizens Bank Park.

Gerrit Cole – The Yankees are making a big push to land Cole. However, many believe that the Newport Beach, California native genuinely wants to pitch on the west coast. The Phillies have the money to be in this discussion, but I just don’t see the interest on his part.

The Dodgers, Angels, and Padres are probably going to end up as the finalists for Cole, with the Yankees trying to shove their way in with lots of money and that old Bronx Bomber prestige and history.

Stephen Strasburg – After meeting with Cole on Tuesday, the Yankees are spending their Wednesday meeting with Strasburg. If they feel that Cole is committed to the west coast, Strasburg could become New York’s main target, which could blow any other team out of the water…assuming the big righty is interested in pitching in the Bronx.

There have been no major rumors involving a Phillies link to either Cole or Strasburg, unless you count this afternoon’s generic “the Phillies are looking at Strasburg” tweet from Jon Heyman.

My guess is that the club has already been informed by their agent, Scott Boras, that the Phillies would be secondary options for the two biggest pitching prizes.

Madison Bumgarner – Back in May, MadBum put the Phillies on his no-trade list. However, that was strategic per Rosenthal. Bumgarner didn’t want to leave San Francisco, and listed as many teams as he could who appeared likely to go after him at that time.

Rosenthal did a nice sales pitch for Bumgarner earlier today on MLB Network. It has been about a week since any talk linking him with the Phillies. But Jon Morosi reported that reps of the player and team have been in touch, and Morosi also stated that the Phillies are “actively interested” in the veteran lefty.

Hyun-Jin Ryu – The Phillies could really use a left-hander, if not two, for the starting rotation. Scott Lauber lumped the Korean southpaw in with Wheeler and MadBum this afternoon as a possible Phillies target.

Dallas Keuchel – Well, since the Braves snatched Hamels, perhaps the Phillies could snatch up Keuchel, who pitched last season in Atlanta?

After he shut the Phillies down in a September start for the Braves, Keuchel called out Phillies management for not going after him when the pitcher was available and the club had a need per Jim Salisbury at NBC Sports Philadelphia:

I mean, if you don’t come calling what is there for me to be mad about? I think a lot of those guys over there in the front office are second-guessing themselves, and, I mean, I would too.

There have been no rumors linking the pitcher and the team. But if the Phillies aren’t seriously looking at him at this point, they have to be letting their egos get in the way.

Infielders

Didi Gregorius – The hottest name linked to the Phillies thus far this off-season, Gregorius is a favorite of new manager Joe Girardi from his years with the Yankees.

While I personally don’t think Gregorius is a major upgrade over incumbent shortstop Jean Segura defensively, he would bring more pop to the Phillies lineup.

Salisbury reported this morning that “the Phils are engaged in talks with free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius.” It would appear to be more than speculation or rumor at this point.

Cutting ties with Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco opens two spots on the Phillies infield. The club already has the potential to fill second base with Scott Kingery. Watching how they choose to align the 2020 infield will be one of the more interesting Phillies situations this off-season.

Josh Donaldson – The Phillies have a hole at third base with the Franco non-tender. Kingery is not a good option on an every day basis. Top prospect Alec Bohm is nearly ready, and could push his way to Philly no later than mid-summer of the 2020 season.

So, the question becomes would the Phillies shell out big bucks and tie up third base for multiple years. That is what it will likely take to land Donaldson, who played on a one-year contract in Atlanta last season and is not likely to settle for such a deal again.

There have been no real rumors linking the team and player other than a Monday tweet from Morosi that the Phillies were “maintaining contact” with reps for both Gregorius and Donaldson.

Anthony Rendon – While a big ex-Nationals reunion joining Bryce Harper with Strasburg and/or Rendon would be wonderful on the field, it likely wouldn’t work on the Phillies balance sheets.

Rendon is going to be the highest-priced position player free agent this off-season. The Dodgers have already met with he and Strasburg, and many feel that Rendon will end up with the Texas Rangers, with whom he has also already met.

Two weeks ago, Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philly called Rendon “the perfect fit” for the Phillies. However, there has been nothing to really link the team and player directly to this point.

In my opinion and that of most others, the Phillies need to add not one, but two more proven veteran starting pitchers to their rotation.

The Phillies have successfully landed Wheeler with a lengthy contract at a high salary. Should they now fall short on the other arms listed previously you can expect them to shop for a pitcher in the “third tier” of free agents.

Were that to happen, arms such as Rick Porcello, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Julio Teheran to get a longer look from the club. But this is not what the Phillies want or need, not really.

Wheeler adds a much-needed talented arm. He gives them a nice 1-2 punch with Aaron Nola. What would go well now would be a battle-tested and still talented left-hander. Someone like Bumgarner.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB 2020 free agent market

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Super agent Scott Boras again finds himself in the middle of much of the big Hot Stove season action

 

Welcome to the latest episode of the ‘Ring the Bell‘ podcast. For those simply reading this piece at the website, it doubles as the script for today’s episode.

As I discussed in yesterday’s episode which evaluated the Phillies current roster and payroll situations, the ball club has a number of important needs. General manager Matt Klentak will find himself increasingly under the glare of the spotlight as this Hot Stove season moves along and he attempts to fill those needs.

First, let’s take a minute to run down the list of what I see as those Phillies needs this off-season, in order of importance:

  1. Starting pitching
  2. Starting pitching
  3. Center field
  4. Bench
  5. Bullpen
  6. Third base (?)

That was not a typo in listing ‘Starting Pitching’ twice. It is simply that important, first of all. And also, the club needs two new proven winning veteran starting pitchers, at least one of whom should be an “ace” level rotation arm. Now, let’s take a look at who is available on the free agent market.

STARTING PITCHING

There are two big names here, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They should and will be the Phillies top two targets in free agency. Principal owner John Middleton has made the addition of top-level starting pitching a priority for the team, and is prepared to spend top dollar to secure such an arm.

The problem is not going to be one of either money or will power. The problem for the Phillies will be that they are not the only team in search of this level of pitching talent, not by a long shot.

The world champion and division rival Washington Nationals and their World Series opponents, the Houston Astros, are not simply going to let Strasburg and Cole respectively walk away from their ball clubs without a major effort to retain them.

Also, it is publicly known that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will be shopping aggressively for this type of arm as well. Speculation is that the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves are among any number of other teams with the desire and money to land one of these top two starting pitchers.

It’s hard to know what is going through Strasburg’s mind. There has been some speculation that opting out of his contract with the Nationals was purely a strategy to get more money from the only organization he has ever known.

The 31-year-old, 10-year veteran was due to make another $100 million over the next four years in Washington. Some have speculated that he could get another $50 million and another year, at least, on the open market.

While it would not be a surprise to see the Nationals and Strasburg announce a new deal at any point, that is far from a given. The longer he hangs out there on the market, the more clubs are going to his agent, Scott Boras, with interest.

Cole is also represented by the Boras Group. The 29-year-old is the biggest name on the free agent market this winter. I expect to see Boras take him on a tour of interested teams and cities, similar to what we saw happen last year with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Don’t expect to see Cole sign with anyone until February.

While the Phillies will be in the mix for both, their money and genuine interest making them legitimate contenders, they should not be considered the favorites for either pitcher. Cole, a native of Newport Beach, is said to be interested in either a return to SoCal or a spot at the top of the Yankees rotation. Strasburg, a San Diego native, may also go the SoCal route if he doesn’t return to D.C.

It is going to be curious to watch the Phillies pursuit of a top arm, because as I said, what the rotation really needs is two more experienced, proven, veteran starting pitchers.

The longer that Cole remains unsigned, and Strasburg as well for that matter, and the longer the Phillies genuinely believe that they are in the mix for one or the other, then it becomes a somewhat dangerous game.

There is a large group of talented starting pitchers just below the talent levels of Cole and Strasburg. Most if not all of those pitchers are going to sign somewhere earlier than at least Cole will be signing. The Phillies are going to have to commit to one of the next level of pitchers by Christmas, possibly even within the next few weeks.

The most obvious target would appear to be 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Turning 36 years of age two days after this coming Christmas, Hamels has already said that he would be open to a return to the club with whom he broke into the big-leagues and first became a star.

Judging by social media, Hamels remains popular with the fan base. And judging by his comments, the feeling is mutual.

MLB Phillies insider Todd Zolecki quoted Hamels earlier this week:

I know Philly is finally trying to make that push. They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.

Hamels then went on to say, according to Zolecki, that he would even be willing to play on a one-year contract:

I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization…I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win. I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.

This just seems to make too much sense. Hamels is clearly interested in a return to the Phillies. The fans would love to have him back. He has the talent and experience that the club is looking for, and he has something else going for him – Hamels is left-handed. The club has not had a truly effective southpaw in their rotation since, well, since Hamels left in 2015.

No longer in his prime, this could absolutely work on a one-year deal with a club option for another year or two. The Phillies, as long as all the medicals check out, should waste no time with this decision. Klentak should be on the phone with Hamels agent today.

If they just can’t work something out, or don’t want Hamels for some reason, there are other interesting arms.

Available free agent left-handers include 30-year-old, 4x NL All-Star and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner…32-year-old, 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel…33-year-old Korean native and 2019 NL All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu…29-year-old, 2017 NL All-Star Alex Wood.

Available right-handers would include 29-year-old, former first round MLB Draft pick Zack Wheeler…31-year-old, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello…30-year-old, 2019 AL All-Star Jake Odorizzi.

There are a few dozen other possibilities as well. But frankly, anyone other than the pitchers mentioned already would be a disappointing addition.

The Phillies would be wise to take Hamels up on this word, and wrap him up to fill the 3-4 slot in their starting rotation for 2020. Then they can concentrate all of their efforts into trying to land one of the really big fish.

CENTER FIELD

There are a lot of Phillies fans who seem to think that the club is okay here with either Scott Kingery or Adam Haseley. Frankly, if you truly want to be a contending team, I think that is just crazy talk.

Kingery has handled himself admirably out there for someone who is not a natural outfielder. Haseley deserves much credit for rising from Double-A to a regular big-league role last season.

But neither is the answer for a contending Phillies ball club.

Kingery needs to be handed his natural second base position and allowed to play it every single day, barring some situational need or emergency. Haseley would be well served getting more everyday plate appearances at Triple-A or serving a fourth outfielder apprenticeship in 2020.

There has been some chatter on social media about the team bringing back free agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, who excelled with the Phillies following his arrival from Pittsburgh at this past season’s trade deadline.

Yes, Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances with the Phillies. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you have something like a 35 homer, 120+ RBI campaign.

However, the 30-year-old Dickerson is a free agent for the first time. He is going to parlay that performance into a nice, well-deserved payday. And he is, unfortunately, not a center fielder. Just 27 of his 571 big-league games in the outfield have been played in center.

If you are thinking of putting him in left field and having Andrew McCutchen slide over to become the everyday man in center field for the Phillies, you really need to think again.

McCutchen is now 33-years-old and has not played center field regularly in either of his last two seasons. He is coming off major knee surgery as well.

While he can spot-start or slide over temporarily during a situational or emergency need, as he did for 10 starts and 15 total games this past season with the Phillies, he is no longer the player who won a 2012 Gold Glove Award as a center fielder.

Roman Quinn is also not the answer. I love Quinn’s tool set and have been publicly in his corner for a few years now. But even someone who is as big a fan as I am has limits. Quinn has proven that he simply cannot remain healthy long enough to be a reliable starting option.

No, what the Phillies really need is a new center fielder, someone from outside the organization. Unfortunately, there really are not quality options available this year in free agency.

You have a premier defender such as Juan Lagares. There is pure base stealing speed in Billy Hamilton. There is an aging veteran such as 34-year-old, 5x AL All-Star, 4x AL Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones.

None of those is a realistic option. Jones played just one game in center last year for the Dbacks, and two years ago with Baltimore he was rated as one of the worst regular center fielders in the game defensively by Fangraphs.

Lagares will turn 31-years-old in spring training and has just a .254/.297/.361 career slash line in 2,119 career big-league plate appearances. With a slash of just .242/.297/.326 over 3,089 plate appearances, Hamilton is even worse with a bat in his hands.

There is no answer available in free agency. If the Phillies want to improve in center field, it is going to have to come via trade.

During this past season, I wrote that a worthy trade target could be found in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He turns 30 years of age early in the 2020 season and can become a free agent after next year.

If I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone looking to see if we can find a reasonable match in trade for the 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and ALCS Most Valuable Player.

THIRD BASE

Don’t count me among those who feel that the Phillies need a third baseman. Again, this is assuming the club does what I think it should do – give second base to Scott Kingery, and cut ties to Maikel Franco by not offering him arbitration.

If I’m running things, top offensive prospect Alec Bohm is starting at third base on Opening Day 2020. I let him know that right now.

When Bohm’s season ends following the conclusion of the Premier 12 tournament, at which he is Team USA’s starter at the hot corner, I tell him to go home and enjoy the holidays. Just keep working out and stay in shape. Don’t report to Clearwater until early February. And be mentally ready for your role as the Phillies starting third baseman.

Now, that’s me. The club could actually go in a number of directions. They could offer a contract to and bring back Franco as the starter, at least to begin the season. Then let him try to hold off Bohm for as long as he can.

Or the club could offer a contract to Cesar Hernandez, cut ties with Franco, give the third base job to Kingery, and fill center field some other way. Once Bohm is deemed ready, they could either slide Kingery back to center if no good option has emerged, or work out some king of position-sharing scheme involving the players. That option seems too messy.

Another option would be to cut ties with Franco and sign a free agent. There are a handful of interesting options if the Phillies try to take this route.

In order of talent, those free agent options would be Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon will be expensive and would tie up the position for years, meaning that the Phillies would either be banking on the NL getting a DH as soon as the 2021 season, or they would be considering a trade of either Bohm or Rhys Hoskins. I love Rendon as a player, but with Bohm nearly ready, this just doesn’t seem like the right move.

Donaldson just played on a one-year deal with Atlanta at a $23 million salary. He’ll turn 34-years-old a month from today. Perhaps the Phillies could lure him with a similar one-year offer? That would mean Bohm at least starts the season back at Triple-A.

The 31-year-old Moustakas is a bit trickier. He played with Milwaukee this past season at $7 million and received a $1 million buyout of his contract for next year, rather than the Brewers committing to his $11 million mutual option.

Moustakas is going to be seeking a multi-year offer from some team. He is still young enough that someone is likely to make that kind of offer in order to add a 35-homer bat to their lineup. I am betting it won’t be the Phillies.

Again, my choice here is to give the job to Bohm, spend your free agent money on pitching, and move on from the old, losing Franco-Hernandez infield combination.

BENCH

Putting together a bench group that includes at least a few veteran options for new manager Joe Girardi, preferably options that can hit the ball, will be another Klentak challenge.

The Phillies are already slated to have Jay Bruce return. He should help out as a pinch-hitter, on the outfield corners, and could even turn out to be a lefty-hitting backup first base option, giving Hoskins a blow against a few tougher right-handed pitchers. Girardi should be able to get him plenty of at-bats to keep him sharp and happy.

Assuming the Phillies move on from both Franco and Hernandez, as well as Odubel Herrera, that leaves other outfield depth options as Roman Quinn and Nick Williams. The infield would need help. There are a bunch of interesting options who could fit the bill:

The club could try to re-sign 30-year-old Brad Miller, who appeared in 66 games with the Phillies this past season. Miller played four different positions, mostly at third base and in left field, and produced a dozen homers in just 130 plate appearances.

38-year-old Ben Zobrist can play second base and an outfield corner. He even covered shortstop for one game last season with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro turns 30 at the end of spring training. He played both second and third this past year with the Marlins, and even held down shortstop, where he was a former starter, in three games.

At age 36, Howie Kendrick showed just how valuable he can be in a part-time role while helping the Nationals win their World Series. Kendrick, who played in 39 games with the 2017 Phillies, saw time at first, second, and third this year in Washington.

30-year-old Derek Dietrich ripped 19 homers in 306 plate appearances while covering first, second, and left field this year in Cincinnati. He even appeared in one game at the hot corner, and has played in 146 career games there.

33-year-old Eric Sogard hit .290 while playing five different positions between stops in Toronto and Tampa Bay this past season.

Former popular Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence turns 37 in April, and enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in which he was named to the American League All-Star team. His bat, outfield glove, and infectious enthusiasm could be a perfect mix for this team’s bench group.

The Phillies could use a reliable backup catching option, and yesterday I mentioned one of their former prospects as a possibility. That would be 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, who finally stayed healthy this past season and showed off his fine combination of offensive and defensive skills.

More veteran backstop options who could add an alternative to Andrew Knapp include 37-year-old Russell Martin, 34-year-old Matt Wieters, 32-year-old Bryan Holaday, 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy and a half-dozen or so others.

These are just a representative sample of the dozens of names who could fill out a veteran bench for the Phillies.

BULLPEN

As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, assembling a bullpen is a tricky proposition from year to year. The Phillies pen was decimated by injuries this past season, but most of those arms should be back in 2020.

They could do nothing, and still end up with an effective group. However, adding someone as a strong, veteran back-end option couldn’t hurt. Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, Will Harris, and Pedro Strop are just a few of the couple dozen veteran relievers available.

And how about this possibility: lefty Jake Diekman? Wouldn’t it be sort of ironic if the Phillies brought back both Hamels and Diekman, who they traded away together in 2015, in the same off-season? Diekman turns 33 in January, and struck out 84 batters over 62 innings this past season as a southpaw out of the pen.

Again, as with third base, I don’t feel this is an area of desperate need. But if the Phillies want another bullpen arm, there are plenty from which to choose.

WRAPPING IT UP

Well, that’s a look at the free agent market. The Hot Stove season is officially underway. Free agents can sign with any team at this point, though signings of the bigger names are likely to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And those free agent ranks are only going to swell when the December 2 deadline passes for teams to offer arbitration, which is the decision that the Phillies will need to make on Franco and Hernandez.

As we move through the off-season, this podcast will focus occasionally on rumors regarding the club, and I’ll certainly be talking and writing about any big signings.

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, when I’ll be talking about the MLB Award winners to this point, as well as the nominees for the major awards to be handed out next week, including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in each league.

Remember, you can follow any written pieces or podcast episodes through links at the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds @philliesbell. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy. Until next time, God bless you and yours.

John Middleton flies to Las Vegas trying to close on Bryce Harper

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Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Vegas to nail down Harper

In what has been a long off-season pursuit of free agent outfielder Bryce Harper by the Philadelphia Phillies, what went on Saturday just might have made for the wildest day yet.

It all began on Friday when principal owner John Middleton’s private plane, the one with the big red Phillies ‘P’ painted on its tail, was spotted on the ground in Las Vegas, Nevada, hometown of the young superstar. Matt Breen of Philly.com stoked the fire in the fan base by reminding them that a year ago, Middleton flew in newly-signed free agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

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The last time John Middleton sent his private jet to get a free agent, he didn’t come home empty handed.

442 people are talking about this

Those initial reports set off a wave of attempts to verify that Middleton’s plane was indeed at McCarran International Airport. They were finally verified by the reliable Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia at 8:43pm.
A source in Las Vegas tells me that Phillies owner John Middleton’s plane is on the ground in that city. Vegas is Bryce Harper’s home town. No other details, but talks clearly ongoing.

2,271 people are talking about this


This set off a wild explosion of mostly jubilant speculative frenzy among the Phillies fan base all across social media. What other reason could there be for Middleton to be in Vegas than to finally get the 26-year-old’s signature on a contract?
About an hour later, Salisbury stated that his information was that there was only a scheduled meeting. With no contract expected, the Phillies insider was headed to bed. Phillies Nation began to bang their collective heads against their computer screens and smash their cellphones Ari Gold-style against the nearest wall.
Reports were also coming out that neither club president Andy MacPhail nor general manager Matt Klentak had accompanied Middleton to Sin City.
Todd Zolecki of MLB.com speculated that perhaps the solo meeting was in order to see if Harper could have the same type of close relationship with Middleton that he has enjoyed previously with Nationals owner Mark Lerner. “Perhaps Harper and his wife (Kayla) want to see if they can have a similar relationship with Phillies ownership, too.
A number of fans asked me what I made of Middleton going it alone. Many of them felt that it was perhaps some type of indictment on Klentak and his inability to get the deal done. A couple felt that perhaps Klentak or MacPhail, or both, were unwilling to get a deal done.
My response was that this is likely to be the largest contract ever signed between a team and a player in American professional sports history. This was always going to take ownership coming in as the closer.
At around 9:30pm, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tossed another log onto the raging Phillies fan base fires when he stated that Middleton wasn’t going to leave without a deal getting done.
The are in deep and serious negotiations with Bryce Harper. Owner John Middleton doesn’t want to leave Las Vegas without a deal.

1,726 people are talking about this

About an hour later, Nightengale followed up with an extremely provocative message that said “optimism now is that 10-year deal with Bryce Harper is finalized by Monday afternoon.
At the same time, the increasingly unreliable Jon Heyman was stating that the Phillies were not the only club in Las Vegas to meet with Harper, and that multiple other teams were still involved.
It also was reported that Middleton’s plane had left Las Vegas and was headed back towards Florida. This began one of the wildest flight-tracking nights in Phillies history. Was Middleton on the plane? Was Harper on the plane with him? Once I tracked down the proper site, I joined in the flight-tracking frenzy, updating fans a couple of times.

For those still interested, appears that Middleton’s plane preparing to land. Still no clue who, if anyone, is aboard other than flight crew.

See ⚾️Matt Veasey🇺🇸‘s other Tweets

Turns out Breen had the information as to exactly who was on the plane, and an explanation for the return flight: “His departure from Vegas on Saturday evening, a source said, was not an indication that talks had snagged. Middleton had to be back in Palm Beach for a scheduled event.
Breen directly refuted the Heyman information, stating unequivocally that “The Phillies were the only team to meet with Harper this weekend.
Zolecki notes that this is the third meeting between the two sides in the last couple of months.
Middleton’s solo meetings with Harper and Boras the past two days in Las Vegas are at least the third face-to-face meetings between the two parties. Everybody met together for the first time last month in Las Vegas…A smaller group met with Boras early last week in Florida.
And that is where we now stand. A sudden, mystery Friday flight to Vegas. An even more mysterious Saturday night flight to the east coast of Florida. The owner meeting with the player, his wife, and super-agent Scott Boras.

Look for Middleton to return to Las Vegas either later today or on Monday to get this thing finalized. Maybe he has MacPhail and Klentak with him on that trip. But expect it to happen. If things continue progressing forward as they seem, we could see Harper in Clearwater wearing a Phillies uniform by later in the coming week.

Update on Phillies talks with agent Scott Boras for outfielder Bryce Harper

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Scott Boras represents Bryce Harper in talks with Phillies

Okay, Phillies Nation, here we are, finally. What began as one of the most anticipated Hot Stove seasons in Philadelphia Phillies history is drawing to a close. It has been a long, at times exciting, often times frustrating off-season around these parts.

The first official day of spring does not come until March 20, exactly one month from today. It is snowing today in Philadelphia, but spring training has begun down in Clearwater, Florida. We have begun walking down the path towards the 2019 baseball season.
The local professional baseball team appears to be greatly improved. Rhys Hoskins is back at first base. Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto bring All-Star talent in their prime to the shortstop and catcher positions. Former MVP Andrew McCutchen is now out in left field. David Robertson bulked up an already talented bullpen. Cy Young finalist Aaron Nola, newly wealthy, leads the rotation.
But while there has been great improvement, a large swath of the Philadelphia sports fan population remains uninspired. Yes, the Phillies appear to be better. But so do the club’s toughest rivals within the National League East Division and other top teams across the senior circuit.
Manny Machado, the talented and at times controversial superstar whom the Phillies pursued as a free agent is now off the board. The San Diego Padres lured the 26-year-old infielder to the west coast yesterday with a 10-year, $300 million contract that includes a player opt-out after five of those years.
Where we are now is at a point of clear focus. Bryce Harper is that focus point. One of baseball’s biggest stars, Harper has been the player whom Phillies fans have wanted all along. The fans expressed that desire clearly and overwhelmingly on social media and sports radio talk shows all winter long.
The Phillies are believed to be the leaders in the pursuit of Harper, a race that now appears to be drawing to a close. But if you read that sentence carefully it contains phrasing that you will find in nearly everything being said and written regarding Harper at this point: “believed to be” and “appears to be” are the key words.

WHO IS BRYCE HARPER?

For those who have been asleep at the wheel, here is a brief primer on the player himself. Harper is, like Machado, a 26-year-old superstar player who has reached free agency just as he is about to enter his prime playing years.
The first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of a Nevada junior college by the Washington Nationals, Harper has been an NL All-Star in six of his seven big-league seasons. He was the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year and then became the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player at just age 22.
Harper has prodigious power, the type not consistently seen at Citizens Bank Park since Ryan Howard‘s heyday nearly a decade ago. He has banged 184 career home runs, with 129 of those coming over the last four years. He has a career .279/.388/.512 slash line with a .900 career OPS.
His is what has been described as “generational talent“, a player of the type where only a few come along during any period of play in baseball history. Yes, he has weaknesses in his game. Yes, he demonstrated immaturity as a younger player. I’ll leave it to others to discuss those imperfections because, frankly, the good in his game and personality far outweighs the bad.
So let’s take a minute to catch everyone up on exactly where we are at this point in the pursuit of Harper. The Phillies organization, the folks representing him at Boras Corporation, and Harper himself have all been largely buttoned-up and tight-lipped in providing updates and information. None of these first-hand ships has, as yet, sprung a leak.

LATEST FROM NATIONAL MEDIA

To get the best current available read, we need to turn to the second-hand resources. I’m talking about those national and local reporters who have traditionally shows themselves to have the most reliable sources and inside information. So, what are they saying?

Jon Heyman, considered an MLB insider for years, has been going crazy on social media recently. He provides regular updates, always couched with that “believed to have” or “believed to be” phrasing and often regurgitating what is already well known.
His latest states that five teams are “believed still in contact“: the Phillies, Padres and Nationals, the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago White Sox. Heyman also states that Harper “is believed to have turned down multiple offers over 300M in recent weeks.” Who is it exactly that “believes” those things? Heyman himself? Who knows?
Bryce Harper is believed to have turned down multiple offers over 300M in recent weeks. at least 5 teams are believed still in contact, tho Philly, SF and perhaps Wash appear to have more chance than SD (just gave 300M to Manny) and CWS (seemed more focused on MM)

1,067 people are talking about this

Bob Nightengale of USA Today has repeatedly emphasized that he believes the Phillies are the clear front-runners and that they will land Harper. Many, including me, have speculated that, having lost out on Machado, the Chicago White Sox would now become the Phillies biggest challenge to winning the Harper sweepstakes.
However, Nightengale’s latest states that the Chisox are “out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes“, and that they are turning their attention to other free agents.
The Chicago , who are out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, still plan to make some smaller improvements to team after Manny Machado chose the . Versatile infielders Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Harrison, along with starter Gio Gonzalez, still on the free-agent board.

320 people are talking about this

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune is an extremely reliable Padres source. In the aftermath of their deal with Machado, Acee wrote that a “high-ranking team source said Tuesday, “We’re not signing him”” in regards to Harper.
Last Friday, Brittany Ghiroli at The Athletic wrote that “people in the Nationals’ organization, per sources, were told by the team’s front office this week that the team was out of the running for Harper.
If these insiders can be taken at face value and believed to be speaking the truth of the various clubs, that actually puts the White Sox, Nationals and Padres out on Harper. That would appear to make it down to the Phillies and Giants.
In an appearance this morning on 105.7 The Fan out of Milwaukee, Nightengale framed that battle in this manner:
@BNightengale – “The Phillies are bidding against themselves. the only other team is the Giants. Things can change in a hurry, but right now the Phillies really want this guy.” – On Bryce Harper

49 people are talking about this

In a radio interview with 96.9 The Game out of Orlando, Florida today, J.P. Morosi stated “I think it’s gonna be the Phillies…They, I believe, are gonna have the biggest offer and they can also give Harper something that the Giants can’t which is an opportunity to win right now.
Morosi also made a joke regarding the timing on a Harper announcement: “When is the Harper story gonna break? About three minutes before the Manny Machado press conference begins. And then you’ll have the crew of reporters all barreling out of the room to go Tweet news of the Harper signing.”
Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote the following yesterday after Machado had signed with the division-rivals from San Diego: “The Giants have never played Keep Up With the Joneses, not under Brian Sabean, not under Bobby Evans, and apparently they won’t under Farhan Zaidi. Without mentioning Bryce Harper by name, Zaidi said the Giants do not feel compelled to make a huge move to counter Machado.
However, Schulman also wrote that Zaidi said any deals that the Giants would make at this point would center on “improving our front-line roster.” Harper would certainly improve any team’s starting lineup.

LATEST FROM LOCAL MEDIA

Matt Gelb at The Athletic wrote the following regarding the dynamic that could be at play behind the scenes between general manager Matt Klentak, club president Andy MacPhail and their expanded baseball analytics people and principal owner John Middleton, whose stupid money” comments earlier this off-season lit a spark in the fan base:
Baseball people do not like it when business people interfere with negotiations. A valuation is an on-field one, period. But what if it isn’t?…Middleton…has spoken at length about his unwavering desire to win another championship…He loves baseball. He loves to win. How do you place a valuation on that?
In a piece today at Forbes, Kevin Cooney tapped into the emotions of the fan base perfectly when he wrote that Middleton failing to get Harper signed now “would make a billionaire look like just another guy who talked a good game and yet folded when the dollars got to a certain level.
I do think its fair to say, however, that the reputations of Klentak, MacPhail and Middleton for this fan base are all on the line in the next few days, whether they want to admit it or not.

85 people are talking about this

Corey Seidman at NBC Sports Philadelphia sees the possibility of the Harper saga possibly now expanding to more teams and dragging on for awhile yet: “…if the $300 million-plus offers for Harper do not materialize because fewer teams are in on him, Harper and Boras could change course and go shorter, which would bring more teams back into the fold. The complexity of this all is why a Harper signing might not be imminent.

WHERE WE NOW STAND

Based on what we have heard from reliable sources, the Phillies would appear to be clearly in the driver’s seat. It seems that they would indeed be willing to beat the Machado terms in a Harper deal. The San Francisco Giants might have a shot if Harper simply doesn’t want to come here and is willing to settle on a shorter-length deal. The Washington Nationals might be given a last chance to match or beat whatever final offer either the Phillies or Giants should make. So, how much might it take to get a deal done?
In a “Baseball Tonight” podcast released today, ESPN insider Buster Olney and guest Scott Miller of Bleacher Report both speculated that the Phillies would win the battle. Olney even came up with a number: “It would not shock me, because the Machado contract definitely is higher than most people in the game expected, it would not shock me if Bryce’s deal, when it’s first leaked out through one of Scott’s (Boras) guys in the media, it’s gonna have the number ‘4’ in it.
Olney means $40 million per year, possibly even a 10-year $400 million deal. He then went on to specifically emphasize a similar point touched on by both Gelb and Cooney: “I do think that if he goes to the Phillies, it’s gonna be because John Middleton basically grabs the steering wheel away from the baseball analytics people in his front office and says “I don’t care about value, I know what the reactions of the fan base is gonna be if we don’t sign this guy!“”
And that is pretty much where we stand, folks. Personally, I’ve always been more of a “here’s what we know” guy than a “here’s what we think” or “here’s what we hope” type. But this is a unique process, as I’m sure most Phillies fans understand by now. Here at Phillies Nation, we’ll be striving to give you all of the most reliable information possible until that process is completed

Bryce Harper has made his decision, per Washington sports talk host

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A Washington radio host is reporting Harper has made a decision

Everyone in Phillies Nation has been waiting with growing impatience for a final decision from free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

If the alleged “real good source” to 106.7 The Fan sports talk broadcaster Chris Russell is to be believed, the process for Harper may be now winding to a close.
Russell stated on the air on Thursday that the superstar outfielder’s decision would “come in the next 24 hours” and added that he did not believe that Harper would be returning to the Nationals.
Then today, Russell joined local Philly FM sports talk Philly 94 WIP’s Midday Show and stated the following:

“… I’m led to believe by the people that I’ve talked to that are close to the situation—and I have, again, a real good source that has helped me through this process, let’s just leave it at that, that Bryce was in a mood to celebrate yesterday.”

Now, the source said, ‘I believe it’s done.’ I don’t have concrete, 100 percent proof for you guys. I wish I did, otherwise I would have it and I would be running around with it. But I don’t have that, so I want to caution everybody in Philadelphia. But that’s what I was lead to believe, that this thing is now decided.”
Russell went on to elaborate that if no formal contract has yet been extended, then there may simply have been an agreement reached. That would mean that specific contract details need to be worked out before any actual announcement might come.

Ben Krimmel at the 106.7 The Fan further quoted Russell: “I was, again, led to believe that there was some stuff going on yesterday in Las Vegas that indicated to me and my source that Bryce Harper was done with this decision. But it could still take a couple of days to get everything ironed out.
Information from Russell’s supposed source might be given a bit more credence than some of the other information coming out regarding the Harper situation. It was this source that revealed the San Francisco Giants recent interest in the free agent slugger.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak stated yesterday that he believes the club has enjoyed a strong off-season and responded to the many fans who have been vocal in expressing that, despite all of the team’s moves to date, the failure to land either Harper or Machado would prove fatal to the club’s chances of truly competing in the 2019 season.
Klentak was quoted by Matt Breen at Philly.com: “The notion that we hear is that if we fail to sign a big free agent, then it’s a failure of an offseason. I don’t agree with that. I’m not trying to throw cold water on the idea that we may still sign a free agent. We are going to continue to explore that market because there are several really good free agents out there.
Jake Arrieta didn’t sign with the Phillies last spring until March 12. (Ian D’Andrea/Flickr)
Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who did not sign with the Phillies last spring until March 12, was quoted on the situation by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
I was in that same boat…They want to be in camp with their teammates. That was the hardest part for me, not being in Clearwater with these guys for the first three weeks — not getting to develop those relationships, get to know the catchers, the coaching staff. That’s tough…It’s tough on them and their families to not have a team to be with. Even though those guys are going to get taken care of financially, it’s still tough on them not being in a clubhouse and getting to cultivate those relationships that are so important for everyone on the team.
Besides the obviously headline-grabbing nature of a “this thing is now decided” comment, Russell had another interesting opinion to share towards the end of today’s WIP interview when he stated the following regarding Harper: “I don’t think he likes the extreme intensity and rabid, rabid, critical nature of a Philadelphia, or a New York, of a Boston, and that, I think, is important.

One thing that Russell never said at any time is that he believes that Harper, if indeed a decision has been made, will be choosing the Phillies. In fact, based on that last comment, Russell would have to believe that San Francisco is a more likely destination.
You can listen to the entire interview conducted by WIP Midday Show hosts Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie with Russell at the embedded link above within the body of this story. If Russell’s “source” proves to have good information, we should see an end to the Harper free agency saga any day now. But even if so, will it prove to be a happy ending for Phillies fans?