Many, myself included, started speculating about a potential Bryce Harper-to-the-Philadelphia-Phillies scenario as far back as 2015. For what it is worth, a new report indicates that the team would indeed be a player for the 2015 National League MVP if he becomes a free-agent after the 2018 season.
John Perretto of FanRag Sports spoke to someone within the organization, that both confirmed potential interest in Harper and spoke glowingly of how the team's offense would look with him in the middle of their lineup:
However, a Phillies source says his team would have interest in trying to lure Harper to Philadelphia if he reaches free agency.
The Phillies believe Harper could be the centerpiece of a potentially explosive offense that would include catcher Jorge Alfaro, first baseman Tommy Joseph, second baseman Cesar Hernandez, third baseman Maikel Franco, shortstop J.P. Crawford, left fielder Aaron Altherr and center fielder Odubel Herrera.
“We have a lot of good young players but we don’t have that one guy who has taken off and become one of the better players in the league,” the Phillies source said. “Adding a true impact hitter would make all the difference in the world.”
As previously mentioned, Harper won the 2015 National League MVP, and after an injury-riddled down year in 2016, he's one of the early favorites to win the award in 2017. He entered the evening slashing .349/.458/.678 with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs. He's two seasons removed from posting a 9.5 WAR (per FanGraphs), something that Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn and Frank Robinson never once did in their career. Harper did it when he was 22, and seems on pace to have another historically great season for his age.
Perrotto speculated that the Phillies may try to sell Harper on Citizens Bank Park being a place he could become one of the game's greatest home run hitters of all-time, something an anonymous scout backed him up on:
Part of the Phillies’ pitch to Harper would be that he could finish his career with historic home run numbers if he played half his games at CBP.
“Could you imagine what he could do in that ballpark playing 81 games a year in that bandbox?” a scout from a National League team said.
There's two problems with this theory. First of all, the New York Yankees, famous for their short right field porch, are also expected to pursue Harper should he reach free-agency. Secondly, Harper would be signing the deal at age 26, likely a 10-year deal, but one that would include an opt-out in his early 30s. Harper is likely to take that opt-out, meaning that he could hit a ton of home runs in Philadelphia, but at least in the contract he would be signing after 2018, he wouldn't finish the deal even with 500 home runs. Of course, home run No. 1 counts as much as home run No. 700, but since Harper isn't going to be within striking distance of any home run milestone in 2018, selling him on playing in Citizens Bank Park would likely have to be fairly far down the organization's list of pitches. The idea of playing in the enviornment of Citizens Bank Park, assuming the Phillies are contending again, may be more intriguing to Harper than the idea of playing there to chase home runs.
An unnamed league general manager speculated to Perrotto's colleague, Jon Heyman, last week that he thinks Harper could push a $500 million deal. There's a debate to be had about whether any individual player is worth that amount of money, but Harper might be the most appropriate player to land such a contract that isn't named Mike Trout. Unlike Trout, landing Harper wouldn't require making one of the biggest trades in league history, and Harper is slightly younger.
While the Phillies could approach whatever number Harper's agent Scott Boras asks potential suitors for, it may not be that simple. Deep-pocketed teams -- such as the Nationals, Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers -- will probably all make serious pushes for Harper's services. If you take money out of the equation, or assume that it may be neutralized by other big-market teams, the Phillies may struggle to compete with some of the aforementioned teams, who have had significantly more on-field success recently. The Phillies do have a strong farm system, but they don't have a better farm system than the Yankees, and they don't have better young talent at the major league level than any of the teams.
None of this is to say that the Phillies shouldn't pursue Harper if he becomes a free-agent after 2018, they should. But they may end up losing out to a team like the Yankees, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world when you consider that Manny Machado is among the other potential free-agents in an offseason that's expected to produce the deepest free-agent class in the history of the sport.