Nationals Rumors: Are the Phillies really the Bryce Harper front-runner?

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals tosses his helmet after striking out to end the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in game two of the doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on September 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals tosses his helmet after striking out to end the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in game two of the doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on September 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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It’s peak season for Washington Nationals rumors. Bryce Harper is expected to be the center of them, so we look at whether the Phillies are the front-runner

It’s now just under a month until the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in West Palm Beach. Between then and now, expect plenty of Bryce Harper related Nationals rumors as his free agency continues to play out.

The outfielder met with the Philadelphia Phillies in Las Vegas on Saturday as they continue to pursue the superstar free agent this offseason. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale went as far as to say that the “clear-cut favorite” to land Bryce Harper this winter.

As part of his article, he elaborated by saying “Nationals executives are now calling a reunion with Harper a ‘long shot’,” and claims that “unless Lerner changes his mind or Harper accepts a contract that pays him less than $25 million a year, they anticipate life without him,” despite a reported offer that exceeds that in recent weeks.

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However, Jeff Passan of ESPN seemed to dispute this statement by saying “the Washington Nationals remain a possible landing spot for the 26-year-old outfielder, according to sources.” Several other prominent reporters have been skeptical of the declaration that the Phillies are front-runners including Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and former GM Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio.

Remember, just over a week ago, it looked as if the Nationals were in pole position for Harper’s services, so there could still be more ebbs and flows yet. But if this weekend has reminded us of anything, it’s that the Phillies are still a legitimate contender to sign Harper this offseason, but perhaps calling them a clear front-runner is a bit of stretch.

In reality, we won’t get a clearer idea of who now leads the race for Harper until the domino that is Manny Machado‘s free agency tumbles. It’s another market that the Phillies appear to be firmly in on, and it would have a knock-on effect on the Harper market.

Recent reports coming out late on Monday have suggested that Machado might be leaning towards joining some of his friends and relatives at the Chicago White Sox. If that plays out, then the Phillies would instantly become more desperate to secure Harper’s signature.

But if the former Oriole comes to Citizens Bank Park, then they likely back off of Harper to some degree, knowing it would be tricky to fit both contracts under the luxury tax threshold. It was rumored earlier in the offseason that Machado was the Phillies’ preference, not Harper, though there are now reports that their focus has changed.

Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reported that “the Phillies might be shifting their focus from Manny Machado to Harper,” though once again, there’s skepticism around this. This seems to have come from a source close to the Phillies, but it’s fair to wonder what they actually gain from leaking this crucial piece of leverage they have over the two superstars.

While it’s entirely possible that Philadelphia does indeed want to target Harper, they don’t have much to gain by letting that information out to the public. Perhaps the Phillies want to pressure Machado into making a decision, in case he thinks he may lose a big suitor, leaving him with little leverage.

Then at the same time the Phillies could hope to make the Nationals bid against themselves for Harper, which would be a win-win for the Phillies. It will be difficult to know the real truth until someone puts to paper on a potentially record-breaking contract, and all we can do until then is speculate.

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The Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper have turned into a long-running soap opera this offseason. Expect an excruciating amount of Nationals rumors in the next few days and weeks before we finally reach a conclusion.

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