Imagine, if you will, Bryce Harper signs with one of the 29 Major League Baseball teams that is not the Philadelphia Phillies. Let that idea enter an orifice of your choosing and marinate for a minute.
You get the text, or see the tweet. You process it. After all of this:
“He’s going to San Francisco!”
“Magic Johnson got us again!”
“All of THIS, just to go back to Washington!”
This scenario feels like the sum of all fears after months of wishing, waiting, and furiously searching social media for even the slightest clues throughout #Harperwatch. Plane tracking, Jon Heyman, Bob Nightengale, more Jon Heyman, and you remember, of course, “Hey, what about Manny Machado?”
This repertoire has become part of my daily routine, like showering, brushing my teeth, or contemplating the general meaninglessness of my daily existence. And with that, it now feels like this whole thing is no longer just about baseball.
Consider the following:
Is adding Harper the difference between falling short of the postseason for an eighth consecutive season and meaningful October baseball? Maybe.
Would his career .900 OPS and consistent 40 home run potential greatly help this team? A decisive “hell yeah” is the correct answer, but here is the more important question – is dropping a decade-long deal worth well north of $300 million the only way for the Phillies to get to where they want to go? You know the answer, temporarily unfulfilling as it may be.
I wrote the following about the decision facing John Middleton and his front office just a little less than two weeks ago:
Why gingerly tread with apprehension along an alternate path when you can, quite literally, parade right down Broad Street like the god damn rock stars you would become by signing one of these guys?
Of course, “these guys” included Machado, who has since signed with San Diego, leaving Harper as the guy. And while I still feel this way, I also feel myself become increasingly aware that this isn’t a do or die scenario for the Phillies that I, like many others, have made it out to be. It just feels that way.
Why? Because for many, this has now become about the chase. Simply winning the contest after months of wrangling with internal strife has superseded the actual worth of the end game, because the hype and expectations have swelled beyond the actual impact of the prize. And that’s not meant as a knock on Harper because the guy straight rakes, but for many fans here, it’s become clear this is now about validation that Philadelphia can land the superstar. Not draft one or trade for one. Sign one. That a guy of Harper’s stature could possibly be wooed by several front offices, but in the end say that he wants to do it here.
That desire is interesting and it shouldn’t be overlooked. If the Phillies hold up their end of the deal and make the strongest offer, Harper’s decision is going to come down to whether or not he wants to spend the rest of his career playing for fans that care so much that they take things, things like his own free agency process, personally.