Somewhere soon, at some altar of spring baseball in Arizona or Florida, outfielder Bryce Harper, the catch of this season’s free-agent crop, will be wed to his new team.
If that were all that mattered — his intention to finally settle down — the ceremony would have already happened. The delay isn’t about his willingness to commit to the union. It is all about the prenup now.
Blessed be the ties that bind, but Harper reportedly wants the option of unbinding himself at a time of his choosing, while still retaining the right to see the vows to the end if that seems like a more profitable move.
In other words, Harper wants the best of all worlds at all times in his coming marriage. For most, that’s aiming pretty high, but for an elite, young baseball free agent at the top of his game, his chances aren’t bad to pull it off.
In the last week, Harper and agent Scott Boras have entertained emissaries from the Phillies, Dodgers, and San Francisco in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas. When last weekend began, the Phils were thought to be the only legitimate suitor and owner John Middleton was exuding confidence that negotiations to land Harper would ultimately bear fruit. Since then, the Dodgers jetted in on Sunday evening and the Giants on Tuesday.
The question of the moment concerns which of the teams are being used, and it is impossible to sort out. The Phillies are allegedly willing to draw up a contract for the most seasons and the most dollars, while the Dodgers and Giants want to offer fewer years but still good money and, perhaps, better locations.
All the narratives are second-hand at best. In many of them, Harper wants to get away from the big, bad East Coast and set up shop in Malibu or Half Moon Bay, which, one must admit, doesn’t sound awful.
Sometimes, the story is that his (real-life) wife is the motivating force behind preferring a West Coast landing spot. Sometimes, the fact that the Harpers are practicing Mormons is invoked, with California having a much larger population of followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Harper does not drink but admits to an occasional pregame cup of coffee.)
In some narratives, all that Cali talk is just a smokescreen. Boras wants to be Lord Agent of All He Surveys and get the biggest contract ever, and, well, that works for Harper, too.
Who knows? Not us, and to tell the truth, not the Phillies, Dodgers or Giants, either. Two of the three teams are being used to shake further concessions out of the other one, but that’s as certain as the guessing game can be. Two teams will become merely the rest of the bridal party, and if you didn’t think we were going back to that metaphor, you haven’t been paying attention to the cyclical nature of this whole saga.
Free agency opened on Nov. 3, and it has been a tedious four months since then, although not entirely unexpected. Looking from the outside, specifically at Harper’s free agency, the delay is ridiculous. From the inside, it might be quite different.
It could be that at the start of the process, Boras told Harper something like, “I will have you in uniform on March 1. Stay in shape. Don’t pay attention to the noise. On that date, you will have the best contract we can get with the team that is the best fit for you. That’s my job. After that, you can do yours.”
The date might be off, but probably not by much. Harper is certainly working out and taking swings somewhere in Nevada, but that’s not the same as seeing major-league pitching to prepare for the coming season. The Phillies, Dodgers, and Giants all open on March 28, exactly four weeks from Thursday. The time seems right.
For Harper, however, if he gets the desired annulment clause and chooses the bonanza offered by the Phillies, time is not really on his side. He and Boras have already pushed it past the point where many fans will be quick to forgive him for the annoyance. If the delay is attributed to wrangling a Get-Out-of-Philly-Free card, that won’t increase the civic patience. In other words, the young man had better have a heck of a first season if he comes here.