Harper seems des­tined for Philadel­phia

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Bob Night­en­gale Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

CARLS­BAD, Calif. — It was the Bryce Harper show on Wed­nes­day, or as agent Scott Bo­ras clev­erly called it, “Harper’s Bazaar.”

It has noth­ing to do with the fash­ion in­dus­try but 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. And cer­tainly, it has in­spi­ra­tions that deal with great shoes and great hair, in­spi­ra­tions on the part of Bryce.”

Yep, and the man who is touted to be more pop­u­lar than the Lib­erty Bell, free agent outfielder Bryce Harper cer­tainly looks likely to be headed to Philadel­phia, the city of Brotherly Love.

It ap­peared all along Harper would wind up in Wash­ing­ton, but that was be­fore word leaked out Tues­day that he flatly re­jected a 10-year, $300 mil­lion con­tract at the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

You can elim­i­nate the rest of the suit­ors, too.

The Cubs don’t want to spend the money un­less some­one takes Ja­son Hey­ward or Yu Darvish off their hands.

The Dodgers don’t have the in­ter­est. The Car­di­nals don’t have the bright lights.

The Gi­ants are chang­ing course.

It leaves one team for Harper, who will not mind giv­ing him at least $400 mil­lion.

Yes, we’re talk­ing about the Phillies. The Phillies are the most des­per­ate team to land a star, and with Manny Machado want­ing to go to the Yan­kees, and New York hav­ing the great­est need for him, Philadel­phia is the log­i­cal des­ti­na­tion for Harper.

He will be stand­ing in right field with the Phillies at Cit­i­zens Bank Park on March 28 when they open the sea­son at home against the de­fend­ing Na­tional League East cham­pion Braves. Bank on it.

It’s hard to find 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 official an­nounce­ment him­self.

The Na­tion­als seemed to be the fa­vorite un­til Tues­day, when two base­ball officials told USA TO­DAY that they made a 10-year, $300 mil­lion offer to Harper on Sept. 26. The offer would make Harper the high­est-paid ac­tive player in base­ball, sec­ond only to Gian­carlo Stan­ton’s 13-year, $325 mil­lion con­tract four years ago.

Now, the Na­tion­als say, the offer if off the ta­ble.

They gave it their best, and when there was not a sin­gle coun­teroffer, the Na­tion­als are pre­pared to walk away.

Yes, even if it means see­ing Harper 19 times a year when they play Philadel­phia.

Oh, sure, 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 with­out any­one filling any of their voids if Harper de­parts for an­other team.

Yet the Na­tion­als 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 sim­ply go with an outfield 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 Bo­ras cer­tainly are com­fort­able with walk­ing away too, seek­ing a deal that pays more than pitcher Zack Greinke’s $34.42 mil­lion aver­age an­nual salary, along with Stan­ton’s $325 mil­lion ex­ten­sion that he signed four years ago when he wasn’t a free agent.

This is a player, Bo­ras told nearly 100 base­ball re­porters Wed­nes­day, that can sin­gle­hand­edly turn around a fran­chise, ed­u­cat­ing ev­ery­one on the 600,000 an­nual at­ten­dance in­crease since Harper’s ar­rival, the tripling of their TV rates and the fran­chise in­creas­ing from $480 mil­lion to $2 bil­lion.

So who wouldn’t want the cash cow, Bo­ras says, of the only player in base­ball who pro­duced a 1.100 OPS (on-base­plus-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 was last in vir­tu­ally ev­ery de­fen­sive met­ric.

Oh, and did we men­tion they have lots and lots of money, with only Scott Kingery and Odubel Her­rera 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.

RUS­SELL LANS­FORD/USA TO­DAY

Bryce Harper re­jected a Na­tion­als’ $300M of­fer.

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