Baseball fans everywhere are growing more frustrated by the day as endless tweets claiming that free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper and the Phillies are inching toward a long-term deal continue to pollute their Twitter timelines — without a deal ever actually being announced. With Harper and Philadelphia apparently still having difficulty getting a deal done, it looks like a new (old) suitor has entered the fold. The Dodgers reportedly met with Harper this weekend, though they’re still only interested in him on a short-term deal, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:
Sources: The Dodgers are back in the mix for Bryce Harper. Club officials, including manager Dave Roberts, were seen in Las Vegas on Sunday. https://t.co/cBRqZx4kOO— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) February 25, 2019
#Dodgers within close range of first $206M luxury-tax threshold. Monster AAV for Harper on short-term deal would put them considerably over, but they are at least willing to explore idea. Worth noting: Biggest guarantee to an outside free agent under Friedman -Pollock at $55M. https://t.co/RQyGbKxJ2j— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 25, 2019
The Dodgers were seen as a prime suitor for Harper earlier this offseason, no more so than when they traded last season’s starting corner outfielders, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, to the Reds along with starting pitcher Alex Wood to the Reds in order to clear
salary cap competitive balance tax space. But the Dodgers later signed free-agent outfielder A.J. Pollock, and president Stan Kasten emphasized the importance of staying under the luxury-tax threshold at the team’s FanFest, so they quietly fell off the list of contenders in the Harper sweepstakes.
In recent years, the Dodgers’ 40-man roster has featured a seemingly endless list of starting-caliber outfielders. Even after the acquisition of Pollock, things suddenly aren’t that way anymore. Puig and Kemp are gone. Andrew Toles, who at times has looked like a hidden gem among the bevy of outfield option, did not report to spring training as he deals with a personal issue, and his long-term status has to be considered a question mark at this point. With Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernandez set to see more time in the infield going forward due to the departure of Brian Dozier and retirement of Chase Utley, the Dodgers are set to head into the season with an oufield group of Pollock, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, and Alex Verdugo — certainly not a bad group, but one that could be improved substantially with the acquisition of Harper.
It’s possible that the Dodgers’ re-ignited interest in Harper could be a response to the purported interest of their division rivals — the Giants and Padres had been seen as the biggest threats to the Phillies in recent weeks, even though San Francisco is reportedly in the same boat as L.A. in terms of being skeptical of offering him a long-term deal, while San Diego’s actual level of interest has been uncertain the entire time. Either way, since they subtracted Kemp, Puig, Wood, Utley, Dozier, Manny Machado, and numerous bullpen contributors this offseason while adding only Pollock, Joe Kelly, and Russell Martin, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dodgers make a statement in order to re-establish themselves as obvious frontrunners in the NL West.