CARLSBAD, Calif. — In the high-stakes world of free agency, money always talks. But players talk, too. And if Bryce Harper feels like talking to any peers about the direction of the Phillies, his agent suspects he will get some good reviews.
Boras represents Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez and outfielder Nick Williams. Eight months ago, he brokered a three-year, $75 million contract for Jake Arrieta, and late in the season, he added Rhys Hoskins to his clientele. Through them, he's able to gauge the vibe in the Phillies' clubhouse.
And as the market for Harper — "Harper's Bazaar," Boras cleverly calls it — begins to take shape, the agent senses enthusiasm from his Phillies contingent and a seriousness about winning from owner John Middleton.
"I think everybody in the Phillie organization — Rhys and Jake, Vince and Nick, all the guys that I have on the team — they're just really positive about the step they took last year because they feel they're very, very close to being competitive and winning," Boras said Wednesday at the general managers' meetings at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. "There's an expectation on all their parts that this franchise and ownership, they want to add players, great players, to their team. I think the players are excited about it, just the fact that they know that the opportunity exists."
Boras, unsurprisingly, is hyping Harper as a "generational player," one who has reached free agency at an atypically young age (26) and combines elite-level performance with the star power to increase attendance, television ratings and franchise worth.
As a result, Boras is seeking a record-setting contract in terms of both overall and average annual value. Think of Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million deal — which was agreed upon before he reached free agency — and go higher, likely closer to $400 million.
The Phillies are among the few teams that can afford such a contract. They have been building toward this winter for several years during their rebuild under general manager Matt Klentak. They are a serious bidder for Harper and fellow marquee free agent Manny Machado, though not likely for both, and are poised to spend big money.
"We're not having trouble getting any meetings," Klentak said.
Boras acknowledged that Machado, represented by rival agent Dan Lozano, is a "great, great baseball player." But he tried to draw a distinction between the superstars by citing Harper's MVP season of 2015 when he posted a 1.109 OPS, the highest single-season mark of any player since Albert Pujols in 2008.
"To be in this slugging category, to be in that 1.100 OPS group, it's a very rare group," Boras said. "When you have a .460 on-base percentage, when you have a .650 slugging, Mike Trout, at 25, he had a 1.000 OPS one time. Bryce had done it twice."
Boras also took a not-so-veiled shot at Machado's postseason lapses in which he didn't run hard on a ground ball and said hustling is "not my cup of tea."
"I think clearly Bryce would've won the MVP in '17 if he hadn't hurt himself hustling down the line," Boras said, referring to a left knee injury that sidelined Harper for six weeks. "There are generational players and there are great players."
The market for Harper is still forming. The Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers insist they're out. The San Francisco Giants have been linked to Harper but might be more inclined to rebuild. The Washington Nationals could make another offer after Harper spurned their 10-year, $300 million attempt to re-sign him at the end of the season, according to the Washington Post. And although the New York Yankees shrugged off Boras-fueled suggestions that Harper could move to first base, the agent said he would expect nothing less from general manager Brian Cashman this early in the offseason.
If there's an early favorite, it may well be the Phillies. Boras' talks with Middleton during the Arrieta negotiations in March lead him to believe the team is serious about obtaining a generational player. In time, Boras will find out how serious.
"John and I had long conversations about the team, as you would with any owner, and he certainly illustrated his zeal and competitiveness that he wants to get something done in Philadelphia under his ownership," Boras said. "That is a very driven goal of his. It's a very important part of what he wants to do in the future.
"What I most enjoyed about Philadelphia, in regard to John, is that when the Phillies fell out of the [playoff] race, he stopped talking to the media. That kind of meant to me that he was not happy. I certainly like owners who are not happy if they're not winning. As far as what he's done, I would say he's really illustrated that he has a winning intent."
Harper is familiar with the Phillies from having played against them in the National League East. He always has hit well at Citizens Bank Park, too, with 14 homers and a .930 OPS in 50 games with the Nationals.
But if he has questions about the atmosphere in the clubhouse, the methods of manager Gabe Kapler, life in the city, or anything else that players discuss, Boras seems to think he will get positive answers.
"It's a real positive environment going on there, and [Boras' clients] frankly have confidence that their owner feels the same way the players do in the locker room," Boras said. "Certainly they have the potential, the talent, and the financial wherewithal to make really, really good decisions in a marketplace where you have players available that not often do you have in free-agent markets."