Tension grips Phillies camp as Dodgers elbow way into Bryce Harper hunt

Tension grips Phillies camp as Dodgers elbow way into Bryce Harper hunt

Updated: 1:50 p.m.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There is some anxiety in Phillies camp this morning after an overnight report about the Los Angeles Dodgers jumping into the Bryce Harper sweepstakes surfaced.

The Phillies are in deep negotiations with Harper's agent, Scott Boras. John Middleton, the team's managing partner, spent part of the weekend meeting with Harper and Boras in Las Vegas, the player's hometown.

Middleton returned to the Phillies' spring-training headquarters early Monday afternoon. He spoke outside the facility for about 15 minutes with club president Andy MacPhail and Jim Buck, a member of the ownership group, before entering and heading up to the executive offices. Middleton greeted reporters but otherwise declined comment until the drama is resolved.

The Phillies have been recently considered the favorite to land Harper because they have the money to top Giancarlo Stanton's record guarantee of $325 million in the form of a long-term deal. Other suitors for Harper — the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and now the Dodgers — seem to prefer a shorter-term deal and Harper's camp has long let it be known that the player is looking for a lengthy deal.

The incumbent Washington Nationals could also re-engage with Harper as their owner left "the door cracked" while proclaiming he was out of the Harper sweepstakes last week.

The Dodgers have long been connected to Harper, but their preference is to do a short-term deal. That — and their signing of outfielder A.J. Pollock — is why they essentially disappeared from the Harper radar over the last couple of months.

If the Dodgers are still thinking short-term deal with a high average annual value, they could present an interesting dilemma for Boras and Harper: Go to Los Angeles for, say, four years at maybe $40 million per season and get back out on the free-agent market at age 30 — or even sooner if there is an opt-out — or take the Phillies' record guarantee.

Harper has no aversion to playing in Philadelphia, according to a person close to him (see story), but his storybook landing spot has always been Dodger Stadium. It is close to his home in Las Vegas and would appeal to his Hollywood image and help in his quest to become the LeBron James of baseball.

The Phillies' lure revolves around money and an improving roster.

And so the drama continues ...

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No jitters for Bryce Harper, just an RBI, a stolen base and a little 'glam'

No jitters for Bryce Harper, just an RBI, a stolen base and a little 'glam'

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Everybody's stomach is a little different.

So while Jake Arrieta had a few butterflies before his first start of the spring Tuesday, Bryce Harper's pulse barely quickened.

"Kind of the opposite," Harper said, comparing the feel of his spring debut to Arrieta's. "Spring training is kind of spring training. I don't want to get too high or anything like that. I just want to get out there, stay healthy and compete. When I get to opening day, there's your jitters."

Harper played five innings in right field. He came to the plate three times. He drove home a run with a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat and later walked and struck out. He also stole a base.

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Harper was still a free agent, mulling offers from the Phillies, Giants and Dodgers. He chose the Phillies on the final day of February and camp exploded with excitement. Back in Philadelphia, the team sold 180,000 tickets within 48 hours of Harper's agreement with the team.

This year, things are a lot different for Harper. He has become a dad. And his hair is a lot longer.

"I'm going to keep it going," he said. "Yeah, keep it flowing. Why not? We'll see what happens."

Harper, of course, isn't the only one in camp with a new look. His pal, the Phanatic, unveiled his on Sunday.

"Hey, man, everybody needs a glam-up sometimes, you know?" Harper said. "Why not? I've got long hair right now. I'm always changing."

The general atmosphere around camp is also different than it was a year ago. Though there's a real sense of faith that the Phillies will improve under new manager Joe Girardi, there's none of the euphoric buzz that accompanied Harper's signing. The attendance for Tuesday's game against Toronto in Clearwater was just 4,004. It was a split-squad game for both teams.

Harper is OK with a calmer spring.

"It's definitely different coming into camp," he said. "It's good knowing I'll be here the next 12 years, a lot more calm, not as crazy, not as many cameras. I'll enjoy that and just get ready for the season."

Harper's spring goal:

"Just be healthy," he said. "Take good routes in the outfield, throw the ball well out there, have good at-bats."

Haseley in protocol

Centerfielder Adam Haseley left the game in Clearwater after hitting his face hard on the ground while attempting a diving catch. Haseley suffered a cut on his forehead, caused by his sunglasses. He was seen walking and talking in the clubhouse after the game but was unavailable for comment to reporters because he had been placed in concussion protocol. His condition will be updated on Wednesday.

The games

Arrieta gave up a single, a walk and a three-run homer in the first inning, but he enjoyed a quick second inning. He admitted to some nerves in the first inning but settled in after that. At this point of camp, all that matters with a starting pitcher is health and Arrieta feels good after having his elbow surgically cleaned out late last season.

The Phillies lost the Clearwater game, 13-6, despite a grand slam from minor-leaguer Jhailyn Ortiz. The Phillies signed Ortiz for $4 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in July 2015. He hit just .200 at Single A Clearwater last season but had 19 homers and 65 RBIs in 430 at-bats.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto gunned down a runner trying to steal second base from his knees.

In Bradenton, the Phils beat the Pirates, 6-2. Lefties Ranger Suarez and Damon Jones both pitched two scoreless innings. 

The victories left the Phillies at 3-1-1 in exhibition play.

Zach Eflin starts Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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Joe Girardi is already impressed by Roman Quinn, who could significantly alter the Phillies' lineup if he can win the CF job. Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman discussed on Tuesday's Phillies Talk podcast.

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