Bryce Harper

Buster Olney believes Phillies could snag Bryce Harper from Nationals

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Buster Olney believes Phillies could snag Bryce Harper from Nationals

The Phillies' organization has the bankroll, they have the payroll flexibility and they want to compete ASAP. That is to say: they're players for the big guys.

That was put on display this offseason with the likes of Carlos Santana and more recently Jake Arrieta.

Phillies owner John Middleton said earlier in the week he had Arrieta's name circled for years as a potential free-agent target. Middleton also has big names circled for the future.

But who?

"That’s a conversation for another day," Middleton said in Clearwater. "But, trust me, they are circled."

A betting man would guess that Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper's name has some bright red sharpie all around it in Middleton's notebook.

Speaking of betting men, ESPN's Buster Olney would wager a hefty sum that Harper ends up in Philly or stays in D.C. Here's what Olney had to say on his "Sign Of The Times" podcast Tuesday when asked about Harper getting a $400 million deal next offseason.

"Just before I recorded this podcast, I bumped into Jake Arrieta's agent Scott Boras who is of course the agent for Bryce Harper. I didn't ask Scott this, but I guarantee you what he would say is, 'Buster, teams pay for talent.' And Bryce Harper is a transcendent talent. I still think he has a chance to push the deal to $400 million. I would bet the family farm that Harper ends up with the Phillies or back with the Washington Nationals."

So you're telling us there's a (legitimately decent) chance!?

Manny Machado? Bryce Harper? Who gets the next ride on Air Middleton?

Manny Machado? Bryce Harper? Who gets the next ride on Air Middleton?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — By now, you’ve seen the video.

And if Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and others have seen it, too … well, the Phillies are happy for the little bit of attention.

The Phils are back in the free-agent game. They announced their presence not only by signing Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract on Monday, but also with how they transported and welcomed the pitcher to spring training.

Arrieta had a physical in Philadelphia on Monday. Upon completion, he was driven to Philadelphia International Airport, where owner John Middleton’s private jet — adorned with the Phillies’ red P on the tail — awaited. Arrieta and one of his representatives then flew to Florida's East Coast, picked up Middleton and his wife, Leigh, and jetted across the state to St. Petersburg, where four Phillies executives, including club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak, waited on the tarmac to greet the pitcher. The entire event was captured Hollywood-style by two team videographers and posted on social media. It was an idea that Middleton and Phillies vice president of communications Bonnie Clark came up with. And if it all sent a message, then fine.

“I want people to understand that we’re going to do things in the best way we can possibly do it — first class,” Middleton said after Arrieta’s introductory news conference Tuesday (more from that here).

“It’s a message to everybody, not just free agents. I want everybody in our organization to understand what our mission is and how we're supposed to go about it. I want the players on our roster not named Jake Arrieta to understand what our mission is, our coaches, front office, our fans, other organizations. We’re serious about winning and we’re going to do what it takes to win.”

Rides on fancy private jets don’t win games. But the guys who win games for teams do like that stuff. Just ask Arrieta's agent, Scott Boras.

“Sometimes organizations want to portray to the player community things that are important to players,” said Boras, who spent time schmoozing with Middleton after the news conference. “Jake goes to Philadelphia for a physical and the Middleton family has its plane waiting to take him down here. A lot of organizations don’t do that. He arrives down here and everyone from the staff is there late at night to meet him. That says a lot about how sensitive they are to player needs and what’s important to players. When you respect players like that — those are things that will ring true to players about how they want to be treated and how they are respected in addition to the competitive nature of the team.”

From upgrades to player facilities at Citizens Bank Park and in Clearwater to technology and other player-improvement equipment, “We’re going to give you all the tools you need to win,” Middleton said. “You’re going to have to take advantage of them because we’re going to have high expectations.”

Arrieta will make $30 million this season, $25 million in 2019 and $20 million in 2020. Middleton encouraged Klentak to go to $30 million this season to recognize Arrieta’s elite status. That’s part of the free-agent game — respect and messages of respect that resonate all around the game.

Middleton said he had circled Arrieta’s name as a potential free-agent target years ago.

Who gets the next ride on Air Middleton?

“That’s a conversation for another day,” the Phillies owner said. “But, trust me, they are circled.”

MLB Playoffs: Harper, Zimmerman HRs lift Nats past Cubs to even NLDS

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MLB Playoffs: Harper, Zimmerman HRs lift Nats past Cubs to even NLDS

WASHINGTON — Things were looking bleak for the Washington Nationals and their dormant offense until Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman took over.

Harper hit a tying two-run homer in the eighth inning and Zimmerman tacked on a three-run shot moments later to lift the Washington Nationals to a 6-3 comeback victory over the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs on Saturday, evening their NL Division Series at a game apiece.

The Nationals were in serious danger of falling behind 2-0 in the series, entering the eighth trailing 3-1 after losing 3-0 in Game 1. But after accumulating four hits through the first 16 innings of the postseason, NL East champion Washington broke out with five runs and four hits, led by 2015 NL MVP Harper and longtime face of the franchise Zimmerman.

"I was kind of bewildered, because it's not too many teams or pitchers that have held us in check like that for a couple days," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "I just knew in the bottom of my heart that we were going to explode for some numbers, which we've done all year."

The NLDS moves to Wrigley Field for Game 3 on Monday. The Cubs will have Jose Quintana on the mound and the Nationals counter with two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was pushed back in the rotation because of an injured right hamstring (see full recap).  

Puig powers Dodgers to 8-5 win over D-backs, 2-0 series lead
LOS ANGELES —Yasiel Puig had three hits and drove in two runs, Austin Barnes added a key two-run double and the Los Angeles Dodgers used another relentless offensive performance to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-5 on Saturday night for a 2-0 lead in their NL Division Series.

Logan Forsythe had three hits and Kenley Jansen earned a flawless five-out save for the 104-win Dodgers, who have made their mediocre pitching irrelevant by pounding out 17 runs and 24 hits in the first two games against their NL West rival.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Brandon Drury added a pinch-hit, three-run shot in the seventh, but the Diamondbacks are on the brink of elimination after Robbie Ray and reliever Jimmie Sherfy couldn't contain the Dodgers' lineup.

Game 3 is Monday at Chase Field.