Will Bryce follow in Bonds' SF footsteps?

After a seven-season tenure with the Nationals that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, an NL MVP Award in 2015 and six All-Star nods, Bryce Harper is now a free agent for the first time.

Below, you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the outfielder.

Will Bryce follow in Bonds’ footsteps by joining Giants?
Nov. 4: In December 1992, the Giants made one of the most successful free-agent signings in baseball history by bringing Barry Bonds to the Bay Area. Twenty-six years later, could San Francisco do it again?

ESPN’s Buster Olney suggests (subscription required) that the Giants would be a perfect fit for free agent Bryce Harper, especially after missing out on Giancarlo Stanton last offseason when Stanton wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause to join the club.

Per Olney, 85-year-old owner Charles Johnson was a driving force behind the Giants’ pursuit of Stanton, knowing that the Bonds move served as a turning point for the franchise, and he just might have the same feelings toward Harper.

MLB.com’s Richard Justice has also made the connection between Harper and the Giants, saying Friday that the club has had the slugger “circled as [its] No. 1 guy” for more than a year.”

With an aging core and a lackluster farm system, the Giants could remain in win-now mode, even after going 73-89 this past season. San Francisco has an obvious need in the outfield and the middle of the lineup, so signing Harper makes plenty of sense, especially once its new general manager is in place.

Braves seem unlikely to target Harper
Nov. 4: The Braves aren’t ruling themselves out on any free agent as they try to figure out how to build on this season’s NL East-winning club. But they might not be willing to hand out the type of deal required to land Harper.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos told former GMs Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette Sunday on MLB Network Radio that he’s “reluctant” to ink players to extremely long contracts, because it brings “a lot of risk” for the Braves in terms of payroll in a middle-sized market.

“We can be in on any player, we certainly have the dollars to do that. That said, I don’t know that it makes a lot of sense — this is just me, from a philosophical standpoint — to do deals that are 10 years in length and longer at significant dollars with the payroll that we have,” Anthopoulos said.

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Will the #Braves target Bryce Harper or Manny Machado this winter? GM Alex Anthopoulos tells @JimBowdenGM & @Jim_Duquette why it’s not likely: pic.twitter.com/lgeHB9jypX

Harper is just 26, which would no doubt make a 10-year deal more palatable, but that’s still a long time to commit to a player, especially with Harper possibly looking at a $300 million contract.

Harper would be a good fit for the Braves, who just had right fielder Nick Markakis hit free agency after an All-Star season. But per Bowden, it’s more likely that Atlanta will try to trade pitching prospects to address their need in right field, as well as at catcher.

Yankees out on Harper, in on Machado?
Nov. 4: After staying under the luxury-tax threshold this past season, the Yankees are expected to be extremely active on the free-agent market this offseason. But according to MLB Network Radio’s Steve Phillips, Bryce Harper won’t be able to count on having the Yanks as a competitor for his services.

A source told the former MLB general manager that New York “will not be in on Harper.” Rather, the club plans to focus on adding pitching and signing Manny Machado.

Tweet from @StevePhillipsGM: Bad news for Scott Boras and Bryce Harper: per a source the #Yankees ���will not be in on Harper.��� Not a complete surprise as indicated by re-signing of Brett Gardner. Seems Machado and pitching additions are Plan A.

That’s not exactly surprising, as the Yankees have considerable resources invested in the outfield already. The club re-signed Brett Gardner to a one-year, $7.5 million contract Friday, keeping its longest-tenured player in the Bronx alongside Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, and potentially Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier.

With Didi Gregorius recovering from Tommy John surgery and J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia, Lance Lynn, David Robertson and Zach Britton all entering free agency, the Yankees have far greater needs in the infield and on the pitching staff.

Phillips’ report contradicts one from SNY’s Andy Martino, who noted that the Yanks might be “lukewarm” on pursuing Machado.

Sources told Martino that the Yankees’ baseball operations and scouting departments didn’t like Machado’s behavior during the postseason. Machado drew criticism for his comments to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal about not being a “Johnny hustle” type of player, and also for a play against the Brewers where he dragged his leg into first baseman Jesus Aguilar‘s foot as he crossed the bag on a groundout.

If the Yankees do end up bidding on Machado, they will likely have competition from across town, with the Mets drawing buzz as a possible landing spot as new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen looks to make a splash in his first offseason on the job.

Meanwhile, another big market club — the Cubs — may be out on both Harper and Machado due to financial restrictions, as ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted Friday, reporting that other teams view the Cubs as having “very little payroll flexibility” as their once-affordable young core matures into a collection of veteran stars.

Cards intend to explore Harper’s market
Nov. 4: The Cardinals’ need for a bat became increasingly glaring in 2018, particularly with the struggles of the most prized offseason acquisitions of the last two offseasons, Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler. They are once again in the market to bolster their lineup and will be among the clubs in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

Cards GM John Mozeliak is aware that pursuing Harper — or any other high-profile free agents in this year’s premier class — will come at a hefty cost, but the club is as well positioned as any to spend aggressively. The Cardinals have a deep pitching staff that remains under club control at an affordable rate, and are entering the second year of a $1 billion TV deal. 

“We understand that there is an opportunity in this market,” Mozeliak said, “and we have to be open-minded to see where that takes us.”

MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch speculated earlier this week that the Cards might struggle to stack up with a market for Harper that includes clubs such as the Phillies, Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs, who might be able to make better offers. 

Of course, the Cardinals were bridesmaids in last offseason’s sweepstakes for Giancarlo Stanton, who had 10 years remaining on his $325 million contract and rejected a trade to St. Louis and wound up with the Yankees. Goold reported that finishing on the outside looking in for high-dollar free agents or trade acquisitions stung the club and has prompted it to alter its sales pitch. 

“Do I agree that we need some level of elite talent to compete at the highest level? Yeah, I’d accept that,” Mozeliak said. “In a perfect world, you’re developing that. But we have not been able to. Part of that is where we [draft]. … Do I think there’s opportunity here? Yes. I’ve been referred to as the bridesmaid before. And then there are other times that I’ve been referred to as, ‘Do you regret doing it?’ So, there is sort of a Catch-22.”

Could Philly pursue both Harper and Machado? 
Nov. 3: The Phillies, ready to put their rebuilding years behind them, are among the favorites to land one of the offseason’s top free agents — Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Could the Phillies try to add both Harper and Machado to their young core? MLB.com’s Mike Petriello took a look at what that potential superstar haul could look like in 2019.

Philadelphia has the financial flexibility to sign both to lucrative multi-year deals, with only Scott Kingery and Odubel Herrera signed past the 2020 season and more room, still, to upgrade the pitching staff. If they pulled it off, Pietrello suggests it could transform the Phillies from their 78-win projection, per the Steamer projection system, into instant playoff contenders.

It can’t be assumed that Machado and Harper will replicate their past success and their WAR figures can’t simply be used to project the Phillies improvement, but they can undoubtably benefit from adding a pair of All-Stars to the roster.

“The Phillies are a team to win now, not later, and they have a lot of holes,” Pietrello writes. “They have the will, the need and the money. They’ll almost certainly be heavily involved in getting one of the two. It says here they shouldn’t stop there.” More >

Pietrello isn’t the only baseball analyst to dream of putting both free agents in the same Phillies lineup. CBS Sports’ Mark Axisa predicts both will take their talents to Philadelphia. 

“How often does a bona fide superstar become available in his mid-20s for nothing but cash?” writes Axisa. “How often do two players like that become available at the same time? Basically never. The Phillies have money to spend and there is no better way to spend it than on Harper and Machado. I’m thinking matching 12-year, $375 million contracts with multiple opt-out clauses and a dual introductory press conference.”

Could Harper land record 14-year contract?
Nov. 2: MLB Trade Rumors released its annual projections for where the top 50 free agents will land, and what their contracts would look like. For the two top sluggers on this year’s market, Tim Dierkes has Bryce Harper inking an unprecedented 14-year, $420 million contract with the Dodgers, and Manny Machado striking a 13-year pact with the Phillies for $390 million.

The current MLB record for contract length and total value is Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins in November of 2014, which was for 13 years and $325 million ($25 million annual average value). A 14-year, $420 million contract for Harper would carry an AAV of $30 million. Though it’s possible Harper could command a higher AAV, Dierkes suggests a contract of that length and value would be beneficial to both the player and the team, including opt-out clauses. He cites a $30 million AAV being a smaller luxury tax hit to the Dodgers.

Notably, Dierkes mentions that the initial prediction was Harper to the Cubs, but that changed due to recent rumors of Chicago’s payroll limitations. The Dodgers make sense on multiple fronts, including the fact that Harper could be plugged into right field, moving Yasiel Puig into a bench role, something that the depth-focused club is used to at virtually every position on the diamond. And Los Angeles is coming off two consecutive World Series losses, potentially looking to fortify an offense that hit .205/.299/.344 in the postseason last month. Dierkes has the Cubs, Phillies, Yankees, Giants and Cardinals as other potential suitors for Harper.

Machado has been linked in rumors to the Phillies since the 2017-18 offseason, when the Orioles were considering trading the superstar. Dierkes writes that Machado’s eventual deal could very well exceed Harper’s, and that it’s unclear which will receive a more lucrative contract. Harper is a generational talent who has had up-and-down performances the past few seasons, owing in part to injuries. Machado has arguably been one of the 10 best position players in the game over that span. Along with the Phillies, Dierkes has the Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals and White Sox as other suitors.

Harper receives qualifying offer from Nationals
Nov. 2: The Nationals on Friday extended a $17.9 million qualifying offer to Harper. He has 10 days to either accept or reject it but he will almost certainly decline as one of the premier free agents on the market.

The qualifying offer still impacts Harper’s free agency, however, as he now will cost the team that signs him a Draft pick, unlike Manny Machado, the other top hitter on the market who was ineligible for a qualifying offer after being traded to the Dodgers in July. Even if Harper declines, he can still negotiate a deal with the Nationals, but their exclusive negotiating window is over.

If Harper signs elsewhere, the Nationals will receive a compensation pick after the fourth round because they were one of two clubs subject to the competitive balance tax with a payroll that exceeded $197 million.

Harper teases free-agency chase in ‘MLB The Show 19’ announcement
Nov. 2: It was announced on Friday that top free-agent target Bryce Harper will be featured on the cover art of the upcoming “MLB The Show 19” video game. While Harper teased the announcement with a placeholder photo of the game’s cover art, the trouble, of course, is that the cover photo doesn’t yet reflect the team that Harper will play for in the coming years.

Tweet from @Bharper3407: Honored to be selected as the #PlayStationAmbassador for #TheShow19 cover! Follow @MLBTheShow this offseason to see what uniform I will be wearing on the final cover! pic.twitter.com/31kf0Yel19

In the photo, Harper is wearing a white jacket instead of a team’s uniform, and the 26-year-old outfielder told his followers to stay tuned to see what uniform he would be wearing on the final version of the game’s cover. The game is slated for release on March 26, 2019.

Predicting Harper’s contract
Nov. 1: Everyone’s been awaiting Bryce Harper‘s free agency, not just to find out where he’ll sign but also to find out for how much.

Given Harper’s in-his-prime age (26) and impressive production (.900 career OPS and 140 career wRC+ – or 40 percent better than league average offensively), there’s been no shortage of speculation that the star slugger could secure the largest free-agent contract in history. That mark currently belongs to Alex Rodriguez at $275 million over 10 years (from 2008-17).

In a story for Fancred Sports, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman enlists a baseball expert, and both make their annual predictions for free-agent contracts. Their verdicts? Harper is going to blow past the record by inking a deal for 11 years and at least $300 million. Buckle up.

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