Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper is a free agent, but don't expect him to play baseball in the Bay Area next season -- unless it's as a visitor.

While some Giants fans have drooled at the prospect of the slugger in orange and black, it doesn't appear likely, given their new head of baseball operations' past history. Agent Scott Boras, who's masterful at building markets for his clients, sees San Francisco as a fit, even if the team probably does not, with the reported $40 million-per-season asking price too rich.

There's no way Harper will join the payroll-light A's, either. In fact, his annual salary could cost more than a possible Oakland 25-man roster.

So, where exactly will Harper end up when the dust created by Boras' bluster is all said and done? Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross debated that question and came up with different conclusions.

ALEX: Ben, this is the Winter of Bryce and Manny ... but so far Bryce Harper has been the one on center stage. That’ll happen when your agent stands up in front of reporters at the GM Meetings and declares that Harper’s Bazaar is open. It’s been a cold market so far. The Yankees say they’re out, the Cubs say they don’t have payroll space, and I reported last week that the Giants aren’t as interested as they once were.

Where does that leave us? Phillies? Dodgers? White Sox? The #MysteryTeam? His Nationals? Who am I missing?

BEN: The Phillies definitely look like the favorite at this point, but who knows? It seems like every article about him is telling us why he WON’T sign with a certain team. I still say he’s not worth the ridiculous salary being projected. Am I wrong?

ALEX: I think we've found over the years that most of the massive deals don't work out. A year ago at this time, we were on Giancarlo Stanton Watch, and he had a pretty quiet 2018. It's definitely safer to spread that money around, but you know Boras will find an owner -- and make no mistake about it, he goes straight to the ownership level -- to write that check. I know what I would do if I were Harper, but what do you think he should do?

BEN: Maybe I'm an idiot (actually, that's confirmed), but I think Harper is a little overrated. He's obviously a really good hitter, but he's only hit 30-plus home runs twice in seven years. Want to know where he ranked in WAR last season? Tied for 186th. If I were him, I think I'd stay with the Nationals. What would you do?

ALEX: I would stay with the Nationals, too. It's different if you can get yourself closer to home by playing for the Dodgers or Giants, or put yourself on the biggest stages in Chicago or New York -- but if it comes down to choices like the Phillies, I'd definitely stay home, unless the contract difference is overwhelming. It's rare that you're given an opportunity to be THE GUY in one city for your whole career, and it seems like the Nats really do want him back.

As for the overrated part, you're not an idiot -- I've talked to plenty of scouts and executives who point to Harper's poor defense and say he's not worth close to $300 million. Will he get it? We'll see. I think he will, which leads to our two big questions: Does he get the largest contract in MLB history, and where does he end up?

BEN: Good point on his defense. His career defensive WAR is -3.0. I still think he will get the largest contract in MLB history, although I don't expect him to end up out West. The Phillies seem like the best bet at this point, based on chatter around baseball, although I'm not completely convinced the Yankees and Cubs are out of it, regardless of what they say.

But if I had to bet, I'd pick the Phillies on a 10-year, $375 million contract. They have the money to spend, and they're a big-market team looking for a new face of the franchise. Harper would be that.

ALEX: All year, I've thought Harper would end up with the Cubs. But now everyone I check with around the game points to the Phillies. I get it -- and they probably have the most money to offer -- but for some reason, I just can't get on board with him jumping to another NL East club like that. It feels dirty.

Boras has a history with the Nationals, and I think he'll ultimately go back to ownership there and find a way to make a reunion happen. I'll say it's 10 years and $340 million, with at least two opt-outs that allow him to get back onto the market if he wants to go through all this again.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Giants could use Harper money to fill numerous other needs
Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey

Giants' spring competitions set to really get going on Saturday

Giants' spring competitions set to really get going on Saturday

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Real baseball gets closer by the day, and on Friday morning, we finally got a 2019 Giants lineup. 

Well, kind of. 

The group that will take the field Saturday against the Angels includes potentially just one starter, depending on who you think will win the jobs in left and right. But there still will be plenty to watch. 

Cameron Maybin and Yangervis Solarte will make their Giants debuts, hitting first and third, respectively. Mac Williamson, Austin Slater and Henry Ramos, all fighting for outfield jobs, will start. Drew Ferguson, the Rule 5 pick, is starting in center. Aramis Garcia, who hopes to win a backup job, will catch Chris Stratton. 

Stratton may be in the toughest spot. He is out of options and seventh on the starting depth chart. 

"He's a guy we look at as a starter and a long man," manager Bruce Bochy said. "The guys that are out of options, we've got to make a call there for sure."

Stratton has had some dominant stretches at the big league level but hasn't shown consistency. Ditto for Ty Blach, who will be stretched out this spring but profiles as a reliever moving forward. Although you never know ...

"You saw what happened last year," Bochy said, smiling. "He ended up being our Opening Day starter."

Bochy plans to have Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Joe Panik in the lineup Sunday for the home Cactus League opener. He had previously said that Buster Posey, coming off hip surgery, will not play until March 1. On Friday, Bochy said Steven Duggar (shoulder surgery) and Ryder Jones (knee surgery) will also be held out until March 1. 

Duggar still should have plenty of time to try to win the job in center. 

"This was the plan," Bochy said. "But he's doing well. He's doing just about everything. We just don't want him diving for a ball."

--- The main story today is on Mac Williamson, who battled a concussion last season. He opened up about how difficult the summer was. 

--- Nick Vincent passed his physical last night and is officially a Giant. 

"A good arm, a good pitcher," Bochy said. "He increases our depth on the bullpen side."

[RELATED: Is Bryce Harper bidding now two-team race between Giants, Phillies?]

The Giants will have some pretty good arms headed for Sacramento no matter how this all plays out. On a related note, the River Cats announced that they're lowering some of their ticket prices. Even before this, that was a place I have always recommended to Giants fans. It's a really fun place to watch a game. 

Mac Williamson could start in left field, year after costly concussion


Mac Williamson could start in left field, year after costly concussion

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After countless hours changing and honing his swing, the breakthrough at the plate finally came for Mac Williamson. The breakdown came elsewhere. 

What should have been the best year of Williamson’s career was wrecked by a collision with a wall at Oracle Park, and it was out on defense that Williamson finally realized his 2018 season needed to come to an end. Williamson never felt right after stumbling over a bullpen mound and going down hard on April 24, and when he started costing longtime teammates runs because he couldn’t track fly balls, the decision was made to shut it down.

The end came in August, with Triple-A Sacramento playing a road series in Nashville. 

“I was miserable,” Williamson said this week. “I couldn’t see the ball coming off the bat.”

There are ways for hitters to rationalize a slump. Perhaps your timing is off. Maybe one of the many moving parts in your swing is out of sync. But it’s much harder to make sense of things when you simply can’t track a fly ball, something you’ve been doing your whole life. That’s where Williamson’s ongoing concussion symptoms became most glaring. 

“When I started costing some guys runs, it was just like, I’m trying to push through this but it’s not just detrimental to me, it’s detrimental to other guys,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of variables out there on defense. Balls were getting hit to me and I was just sprinting in and all of a sudden they were one-hopping the wall.”

Williamson’s numbers, so eye-opening in April, had gone in the tank, too. On August 7, he made a return trip to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins, a renowned concussion expert. 

“He was like, ‘You’re concussed,’” Williamson said. 

That didn’t come as a shock, especially not to Williamson’s girlfriend, Kaitlyn, who later would publish a heartfelt post describing a harrowing summer. She knew from the beginning that something was still wrong. Kaitlyn described her boyfriend sleeping 12-14 hours per day. He sometimes felt nauseous when he sat up straight. 

“He just was not himself,” she wrote. “There were times when I was just like, is this going to be the new Mac?”

The old version has returned this spring. 

Williamson was cleared of all symptoms in September, and as he did last January, he spent time in Los Angeles working with hitting instructor Doug Latta, who helped overhaul his swing last offseason and seemingly put him on the fast track to an everyday job. With the new swing, Williamson hit four homers last spring and posted an OPS over 1.000. That was just the beginning. 

The Giants did not break camp with Williamson in their immediate plans, but had no choice but to insert him in their lineup when he hit .487 with six homers in his first 11 Triple-A games. The first five games back in the big leagues brought three more homers. Williamson had arrived, and then a bullpen mound shook up much more than his season. 

Looking back, Williamson knows he was never close to his old self during the rest of the summer. He returned to the big league lineup after a month on the DL, but five days before he was called up to face the Cubs, he felt so sick that he had to stay at the hotel while the River Cats played a day game in Salt Lake City. 

“I felt like I had a severe, severe hangover. I couldn’t really get out of bed, I was super nauseous and I ended up sleeping the first couple of hours of the game,” he said. “A few days later, I was in Chicago.”

Major League Baseball has come a long way in dealing with concussions in recent years, but there is still no way to account for the pressure players feel during the course of a season. Williamson had waited his whole professional life for an opportunity like the one he was given in late April, and he was eager to pick up where he left off. He felt incremental improvement as he did rehab on his vestibular system.

“I felt like I would get over the crest,” he said. “It never happened.”

Williamson made several visits to Dr. Collins over the course of the summer and early fall. During one consultation, he was told something that sums up why it can often be so hard for big leaguers to fully get past concussions. So many of them return to the field, only to sit back down a week or two later. The Giants have dealt with this repeatedly, including with Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Hector Sanchez. 

“The more stress you’re under, the more it plays up a lot of the symptoms,” Dr. Collins told Williamson. 

Playing in front of 40,000 fans is stressful under any circumstances. Doing it when you're trying to finally cement your spot in the big leagues only adds on. 

“They’ve given me a lot of opportunities in the past and I said last spring that this is kind of the last huge opportunity I felt I might be given, and I wanted to take advantage of it,” Williamson said. “I felt like I did, and then when I got hurt, we all wanted me to get back on the field as quickly as possible because I had been playing well.

"I wanted to get back out there. I missed it and I wanted to keep going, and we were winning. We started winning and it was fun.”

The good news for Williamson is that 2018 was not the last huge opportunity. If anything, the road is far less obstructed a year later. The Giants have no firm commitments in the outfield corners, and as Farhan Zaidi has said over and over again when asked about his young mix, Williamson is out of options. 

The overall numbers in 2018 weren’t good, the result of 52 post-concussion at-bats in the big leagues that Williamson shouldn't have been taking. But Bruce Bochy has not forgotten what he saw before the crash into the wall. 

“With what happened last year, I think you have to view him a litter different and realize, hey, we’ve always thought he had potential, but he showed it,” Bochy said. “That’s the difference now. This will be a big spring for him.” 

The Giants added Gerardo Parra and Cameron Maybin last week, but Bryce Harper isn’t here, and there are two open starting jobs. Williamson lights up when talking about the competition, pointing out that Steven Duggar is ready to shine, and Chris Shaw and Austin Slater have also tweaked their swings. He has seen a little bit of Drew Ferguson and expects him to be a factor. 

[RELATED: Giants poised to take another step forward with center field defense]

But this lineup needs power, and Williamson proved last year that he can provide it. The staff will give him every opportunity to win a job this spring, and after a year of frustration, confusion and far too much nausea, Williamson is eager to grab it.

“From my standpoint, I feel like I’m going to go out there and kick ass and earn a spot like I did last year,” he said. “That’s what you’ve got to do. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, who’s going to believe in you? That’s how I’m looking at it.”