CLEARWATER, Fla. – Whoever was on that private jet from Las Vegas that touched down late Sunday afternoon on the runway at tiny St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport did not report to Spectrum Field on Monday morning for the Phillies’ first full-squad workout.
The Washington Post, however, did dispatch Dave Sheinin, its national baseball writer, just to make sure that Bryce Harper, after seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, did not sneak into the Carpenter Complex. And ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian was here bright and early wondering why neither Harper nor Manny Machado has signed with the Phillies yet.
Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal, and Buster Olney have also checked in on the Phillies, proof that they are relevant again at least as long as they have a chance to sign one of the two 26-year-old stars who must have a hell of a time deciding where they’re going to dinner because they can’t even figure out where their next $300 million or so is going to come from.
For the umpteenth time Sunday night, it seemed as if something was on the verge of happening. It seemed possible that Harper might finally be ready to take the Phillies’ money and make Citizens Bank Park his new home.
One Tweeter, Jon Heyman, an insider with the MLB Network, sent this message to his devout followers Sunday afternoon:
That’s a pretty strong tweet that also covered many bases. As the day progressed, however, the strength of Heyman’s tweets diminished. This was the final one:
Even stronger was this Tweet from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:
Nightengale also tweeted that the Padres have offered Machado an eight-year deal worth $240 million according to some teams and $280 million according to others.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler admitted to paying attention to it all, but he believes little that he reads in regard to Harper and Machado these days.
“I have notifications on my phone,” he said after Monday’s workout. “And yesterday they were like pop, pop, pop, here’s the story, here’s the story. At some point, you just say, ‘What does any of this mean?’ After the fourth ‘The Deal is Complete’ headline, I just stop.”
If you have truly enjoyed this offseason of false alarms that has extended into spring training, this would be a good time to remind you that you could relive the entire experience again in 2020. Only the stakes will be higher for the sequel.
Nightengale, in fact, got a head start on the anticipated Mike Trout hoopla when he visited the Los Angeles Angels’ camp Monday in Tempe, Ariz., and asked the superstar outfielder if he had any plans to sign with the Phillies in a couple of years.
“I don’t think I went a day this offseason without someone saying, 'When are you coming to Philly?’ " the South Jersey native said. “I can’t predict the future. I don’t know."
Trout, the fan, did at least put in a good word for the city of Philadelphia, one of the many places where Harper and Machado have so far decided not to sign.
“I’m an Eagles fan, I know how we are," Trout said. “When you’re going good, you love them. Fans appreciate hustle all of the time, like 100 percent effort. Even if you’re’ struggling, if you go and show them that you’re giving 100 percent, they see that and respect that. But fans are passionate about their sports there, whether it’s basketball or football, baseball especially. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people asking, ‘Is Harper coming here?’ "
Perhaps the craziest thing of all about the Machado-Harper sweepstakes is that from a fan standpoint it barely seems to involve Machado anymore. Once Machado declared during the postseason that he was not “Johnny Hustle” he became persona non grata to a lot of Phillies fans. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki took a Twitter survey Monday asking for readers opinions and 84 percent of the more than 8,000 responses said they wanted Harper and they think the Phillies will sign him.
I asked on my Twitter account why the masses feel so strongly about Harper over Machado.
There were some thoughtful responses like this one:
And this one:
And there were some silly ones:
And this one:
Harper definitely has better hair than Machado and he has better eye black too. Machado has been involved in a couple of pretty good controversies during his career, including a fight with Kansas City pitcher Yordano Ventura in 2016.
Harper’s most famous fight was with former Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon when the two played together with the Nationals. You’d prefer your players fight with the other team, so mark that one in favor of Machado.
Anyway, several of my Twitter followers said they’d take either Harper or Machado at this point, and I think that’s how the Phillies feel right about now, too.
Sorry, I have to sign off now. I’m sure my Twitter account is going to tell me somebody is signing somewhere and I’m sure a private jet is headed this way from Vegas and/or Miami. It happens every day, even though nothing ever seems to happen.