SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.–After months of downplaying their interest in free agent outfielder Bryce Harper, a Giants contingent featuring Larry Baer, Farhan Zaidi and Bruce Bochy tried to sneak into Las Vegas at the beginning of February.
Their mission to remain undercover during a meeting with Harper and agent Scott Boras was unsuccessful, leading to weeks of speculation over whether the Giants would commit to a long-term deal for the six-time All-Star.
As the month of February draws to a close, the Giants are no longer the only National League West team pursing Harper.
Let the speculation floodgates open again, because the Los Angeles Dodgers have re-entered the Harper sweepstakes. According to multiple reports, the Dodgers sent a group including manager Dave Roberts to Las Vegas to meet with Harper on Sunday.
Since leaving his post in Los Angeles to become the president of baseball operations in San Francisco, Zaidi has stressed a practical, prudent approach to building for the future. During his four-year stint as Dodgers general manager, Zaidi never signed a player to a contract worth north of $100 million.
Zaidi is now competing for Harper’s services with his old boss, Andrew Friedman, who is seen as the mastermind behind the Dodgers’ judicious payroll plan.
Neither Zaidi nor Friedman has a history of pursuing the types of long-term contracts in the eight-to-10 year range like the one Harper is seeking. Several reports over the last month have also indicated Harper’s price point (a $300 million-plus deal) hasn’t dropped, but last week, Friedman said he would never rule out the possibility of signing free agents to extended contracts.
“I think people that know me know that I don’t have any hard and fast rules,” Friedman said. “I think so much is based on the circumstances. First and foremost, it’s about winning. There’s going to come a time where we’re going to have to go out into the free agent waters more than we have.”
The National League West rivals are not the only teams involved in the Harper pursuit. In fact, they’re not even viewed as the industry favorite to land the former Nationals star. The Philadelphia Phillies are still perceived as the team that’s willing to give Harper the record-breaking contract he’s seeking, but as the free agent process drags on, it’s entirely possible that Harper simply doesn’t want to play in Philadelphia.
That’s where these negotiations become interesting.
The Giants never expressed serious interest in Manny Machado, but the free agent infielder is now locked up on a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers have indicated they don’t need Harper to win the National League West for a seventh straight year, but it’s clear that one of baseball’s biggest stars has interest in playing in Los Angeles.
If Harper does sign with the Dodgers, the Giants will have to compete against two of baseball’s biggest stars for the foreseeable future with a roster that’s lost 187 games over the last two seasons and hasn’t added any high-profile talent.
The team’s suddenly public pursuit of Harper has energized a fan base that’s yearning to win again while building up hopes about the possibility of sustained success. The idea of Harper playing for and winning with their rival is nothing short of a nightmare scenario for the Giants.
As the Harper sweepstakes continue to unfold, there’s still much to be settled. What’s preventing him from signing with Philadelphia? Would he consider signing a short-term deal with the Dodgers or Giants? Will San Francisco increase its offer if it knows Los Angeles is a serious contender to land Harper?
Roberts told reporters Monday that he’s “not too hopeful,” when it comes to signing Harper, suggesting the meeting was simply due diligence on behalf of the Dodgers. At this point, though, the Dodgers have some form of hope, and that could force the Giants to step up their pursuit.