Tag Archives: Hot Stove League

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?

Phillies reel in big Fish in trade for all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto

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The Phillies obtained all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto from Marlins

The Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins have completed a big trade this afternoon in which all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto will be heading north to Philadelphia.

In return the Marlins will receive catcher Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies top prospect Sixto Sanchez, prospect pitcher Will Stewart, and an international bonus slot per ESPN insider Jeff Passan.

Philadelphia and Miami are in agreement on a trade that would send All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies for catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart, and an international bonus slot, league sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN.

Realmuto will turn 28-years-old in the middle of spring training next month and is regarded as the top all-around catcher in the game today. He is signed at $5.9 million for this coming season and will be eligible for arbitration this time a year from now. After that he is scheduled to become a free agent.
The Phillies are certain to make early attempts at extending him for at least two-three years, taking him out to his early -30’s. In a piece just yesterday here at PN as these rumors were breaking, I wrote about a recent attempt by San Diego to obtain Realmuto contingent on negotiating just such an extension. The Marlins refused the Padres request.
Realmuto became a National League all-star for the first time last season. He also won the NL Silver Slugger after slashing .277/.340/.484 with 21 homers, 74 RBI, and 74 runs scored. He reached the 30-doubles mark for a third straight season.

Alfaro was obtained by the Phillies back at the 2015 MLB non-waiver trade deadline as part of the package from Texas in exchange for Cole Hamels. He broke into the big-leagues for a 2016 cup of coffee, then was called up in August 2017 and had remained with the Phillies ever since.

Over 143 games with the Phillies, Alfaro slashed .270/.327/.422 with 15 homers, 51 RBI, and 47 runs scored. He also struck out an alarming 179 times, or more than 35% of his 508 plate appearances.
A 20-year-old right-hander, Sanchez was the Phillies top prospect for the last year or so. He signed with the Phillies as an international free agent out of his native Dominican Republic back in February 2015.
Over four minor league seasons topping out a year ago at High-A Clearwater, Sanchez went 15-12 with a 2.48 ERA and 0.994 WHIP. He allowed just 177 hits over 221.1 innings with a 191/43 K:BB ratio.
Stewart was the Phillies pick in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft out of an Alabama high school. The 21-year-old southpaw from Huntsville, Alabama has gone 15-6 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.197 WHIP over 56 games, 40 of those starts, topping out at Low-A Lakewood last season. He has surrendered 206 hits over 239 innings with a 203/80 K:BB ratio.
Realmuto is said to be close friends with free agent Bryce Harper, whom the Phillies have been aggressively courting for months. This trade could well be a major signal to Harper that they are setting up their clubhouse to welcome the 26-year-old superstar outfielder.

Looking for veteran versatility for the bench could lead Phillies to Josh Harrison

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Harrison could help the Phillies as a versatile veteran off the bench

While all of Phillies Nation waits on verdicts in the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado cases, the team is not sleeping on other moves to improve the overall roster.

A glance around the Phillies depth chart reveals, assuming the club’s power brokers actually want to contend in 2019, that a couple of important bench pieces may be missing.
Those two pieces would be a veteran infielder with proven ability at multiple positions, and a power bat who would be comfortable coming off the bench as a late-innings pinch-hitter while seeing limited opportunities otherwise.

For fans who were around during the 2008 championship heyday, think Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs. For older fans who can harken back to the 1980 championship team, think Ramon Aviles and Del Unser.
The Phillies are reportedly looking into one such player. MLB insider Jon Heyman of Fancred sports  tweeted out the following on Sunday afternoon:
Dodgers, Giants, Angels, Phillies and Rays are among teams in on Josh Harrison, a great and versatile defender

Harrison would fit perfectly into the role of a versatile and experienced infielder who could capably handle multiple positions. Now a free agent after spending the first eight seasons of his big-league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Harrison has seen action at five different positions.
A native of Cincinnati, the now 31-years-old Harrison was the sixth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Cincinnati.
At the July 2009 non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs shipped Harrison to the Pirates as part of a three-prospect package to acquire a pair of veteran left-handed pitchers, Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow.
Harrison broke into Major League Baseball with Pittsburgh in the 2011 season, and finally became a regular during a breakout 2014 campaign. That year, Harrison hit .315 with 58 extra-base hits, making his first NL All-Star team.
He also finished ninth in the NL MVP voting that year while playing multiple games at third base (72), right field (26), left field (26), second base (17), and even eight games at shortstop.
Harrison was an important piece on three straight playoff teams in Pittsburgh from 2013-15, so would also bring that valuable postseason experience to a Phillies team that is hoping to become regular contenders.
During a second NL All-Star campaign in the 2016 season, Harrison drilled a career-high 16 home runs. But long balls are not what the right-handed hitter is known for, or why the Phillies would bring him on board.
Harrison has retained versatility over the years, playing four positions well in both 2015 and 2017, while also starting all year as the Pirates regular second baseman in the 2016 season. Last year, Harrison again played mostly at the keystone, with 87 games at second base. He did step in for a pair of games at the hot corner as well.

The last couple of years his performance has been affected by injuries. He lost the final month of the season in 2017 due to a fractured fifth metacarpal in his left hand.
That exact same injury recurred in April of 2018 when he was hit on the hand by a pitch. The second injury to his hand caused him to miss six weeks. He then suffered a lingering hamstring problem that restricted Harrison to just seven games during September of last season.
There was a $10.5 million team option in Harrison’s contract for 2019 which the Pirates declined, choosing instead to pay him a $1 million buyout and making him a free agent for the first time.
With the Phillies, Harrison could become a backup at both second and third base. He could also slide out to a corner outfield spot if needed, and even handle shortstop in a tough-spot emergency.
Getting Harrison board would also provide some insurance for the club if the Phillies were to deal Cesar Hernandez and allow Scott Kingery to take over the starting position at second base.
Not the big fish that the Phillies and their fans are really hoping to land, Harrison would nonetheless bring something of value to the team. Now, would he be willing to accept the role? And how much would it cost to bring him on board?
If he is willing to become a backup and the price is right, this would be a smart move for general manager Matt Klentak to consider.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Josh Harrison reportedly on Phillies radar