Bryce Harper dug his signature cleats into the batter’s box Monday night and strapped on his wrist guard — with his BH3 logo emblazoned on it — for his at-bat in the ninth inning. Harper’s logo was on his batting gloves, shin protector, arm sleeve, and even his belt. There was no mistaking whose equipment it was.
But the bat Harper swung? That belonged to Kris Bryant.
Four days before baseball’s trade deadline, Harper used a Bryant bat to work a walk just before Andrew McCutchen’s game-winning homer. Harper and Bryant grew up together in Las Vegas, played together as teenagers, and remain close friends.
Perhaps this was a subtle hint at whom Harper thinks the Phillies should acquire before Friday’s deadline. It is almost a certainty that the Cubs will deal Bryant, who will be a free agent after the season. Or maybe it was just Harper being Harper, as he constantly seems to be changing the bat he swings.
Regardless, the Phillies have a need for Bryant, who can play center field. But it remains unlikely that they will acquire the Cubs star before Friday.
The price is expected to be high for Bryant, who has 17 homers and an .856 OPS through 91 games. Team president Dave Dombrowski said last week that the Phillies do not anticipate trading “premium prospects” for a two-month rental, which Bryant would be.
There are plenty of suitors for one of baseball’s best hitters, and someone — maybe even the Mets — will be willing to meet the Cubs’ price.
“You guys saw him in the postseason. Every time he’s in the postseason, he plays well,” Harper said last week when asked what Bryant would bring to a team that acquires him. “He’s been there. He’s been in the World Series. He’s a great person. He has a great family. He comes to the yard ready to play. He’s a big right-handed bat that can play multiple positions. He can play right. He can play center. He can play third. He can play anywhere.
“Any team that gets him, they’re going to have a treat. Definitely. They’re going to be really excited about the person he is. Just being able to see him do what he does down the stretch for that team, it’s going to be really good.”
The Phillies remain focused on adding pitching this week both in the bullpen and rotation. One of Bryant’s teammates, closer Craig Kimbrel, is an option, as was left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin, whom the Cubs traded Monday night to Oakland.
The Phillies’ need for rotation help became more pressing the past few days when Zach Eflin was ruled out of starting this weekend and Spencer Howard left his start in the fourth inning Monday because of a blister. The Phillies could use a bat, but their priority is on their arms.
Bryant has spent most of his career at third base but has started 10 games this season at all three outfield positions and first base. He said earlier this month at the All-Star Game that if he could play just one position, it would be center field.
The Phillies have the second-worst OPS (.614) this season from center field and started Odubel Herrera, who has 12 hits in his last 80 at-bats, on Monday night while Travis Jankowski remained on the COVID-19 injured list.
If the Phillies are to upgrade their lineup before Friday’s deadline, center field would be a place to target. Miami’s Starling Marte and Minnesota’s Byron Buxton, who cannot become a free agent until after next season, are other options. But if they land Bryant, one of his bats is already in Philly.
“Any team that gets him, they’re going to be able to put him where they need,” Harper said. “If they want him to play center one day, he’ll play center. If they want him to play third base, he’ll do that. If they want to play him at first base one day, he’ll do that. You don’t really see too many superstar players do that that much.
“Him playing for [former Cubs manager] Joe Maddon a little bit, he kind of put him where he did each day. He played left, center, right, short, third. He’s been all over the place. Any team that gets him, they’re going to be pretty happy about that, the way he is, the type of player he is, the person.”
The Phillies activated reliever J.D. Hammer off the COVID-19 injured list. Jankowski took batting practice Tuesday afternoon and is expected to be activated from the COVID-19 list on Wednesday. ... The Phillies do not have a timetable for Eflin’s return as he remains sidelined with a right knee injury. ... Howard is expected to start on Saturday in Pittsburgh after leaving Tuesday’s game with a blister on his right middle finger. ... Zack Wheeler will start Wednesday night against Washington left-hander Patrick Corbin.