Late-en­ter­ing Gi­ants se­ri­ous about Harper

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS | MLB - Bob Night­en­gale USA TO­DAY

The Phillies, who have been the fa­vorites to land free agent out­fielder Bryce Harper all off­sea­son, sud­denly have se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion in the Gi­ants.

One high-rank­ing ri­val ex­ec­u­tive boldly pre­dicts the Gi­ants will ul­ti­mately sign the 26-year-old star.

The Gi­ants in­deed plan to of­fer Harper a lu­cra­tive short-term deal but have no de­sire to pro­vide a long-term con­tract ap­proach­ing the 10-year, $300 mil­lion con­tract Harper re­jected from the Na­tion­als in Septem­ber.

“We want to be able to pur­sue play­ers to bring cham­pi­onships back to the Gi­ants’ fans,” team pres­i­dent Larry Baer told re­porters at the Gi­ants’ FanFest. “Bryce Harper is an amaz­ing player. It’s very hard, these are com­pe­ti­tions, and I can’t hand­i­cap it.”

The Gi­ants, who had not en­gaged with Harper un­til last week, had spent the win­ter lis­ten­ing to trade of­fers for their vet­er­ans while spend­ing just $9 mil­lion on free agent ac­qui­si­tions. Their mis­sion, when hir­ing Farhan Zaidi as pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions, was to build a younger, more ath­letic team for the fu­ture.

Yet with sea­son ticket sales stag­nant and ap­a­thy start­ing to seep in from their fan base, the Gi­ants de­cided they might as well check to see if they can get a dis­count price for Harper.

Cer­tainly, Harper hasn’t found a tan­ta­liz­ing of­fer yet, or he would have taken it.

It’s also hardly a se­cret that he would pre­fer to play close to his Las Ve­gas home, have spring train­ing in Ari­zona, with his fam­ily able to jump into a car and see him when­ever they de­sire.

Still, money talks, the Cal­i­for­nia taxes are a mon­ster and, as gor­geous as Or­a­cle Park is in San Francisco, it can be treach­er­ous for home run hit­ters not named Barry Bonds.

It will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see how ag­gres­sive the Gi­ants plan to be in their pur­suit, know­ing that just a year ago they were will­ing to take on $265 mil­lion in a trade for slug­ger Gian­carlo Stan­ton that he ve­toed.

The Gi­ants had in­ter­nally talked about the pos­si­bil­ity of sign­ing Harper for most of last sea­son, but af­ter they went 73-89 and fin­ished in fourth place in the Na­tional League West — prompt­ing a front of­fice regime makeover — those talks went dor­mant.

Un­til now, when Baer, Zaidi and man­ager Bruce Bochy met for four hours in Las Ve­gas with Harper, his wife, and agent Scott Bo­ras.

The Gi­ants badly could use a power hit­ter to an­chor the mid­dle of their lineup. They would cer­tainly wel­come the gate at­trac­tion. And they would pro­mote him as their great­est free agent ac­qui­si­tion since Bonds.

“I don’t know where we are,” Baer said, “but we’re giv­ing it a shot. That’s all we can do.”

GARY A. VASQUEZ/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The Gi­ants met for 4 hours with Bryce Harper.

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