Frozen Market Could Be Forcing Scott Boras to Shift Strategy with Bryce Harper

Scott Boras said from the start that Bryce Harper’s free agent courtship was going to be a “submarine race,” which is to say it would be very secretive. But the abrasive super-agent may be looking to change tack, even if it’s just to breach the surface for additional supplies. Even though he’s been conserving oxygen by toning down his traditional bombast, the market’s inaction has a way of making anyone feel short of breath.

Boras initially said he felt there’d be only as many as three teams in the hunt for Harper’s services, yet the list of candidates seems to be growing. The Padres surprisingly jumped into the mix last week, possibly prioritizing Harper’s marketing cachet over that of Manny Machado. Then came a report that Harper recently met with the Giants, which really came out of the blue.

Then again, maybe it’s just a matter of those coastal cities providing ready opportunities for the submarine to dock. If, however, the interest is sincere, we’re up to five known parties — the Nationals, Phillies, and White Sox are the others — with at least one more on the periphery.

Information on negotiations is scarce, but the one thing we can be sure of is that Harper hasn’t been bowled over by an offer yet. The Nationals reportedly offered $300 million over 10 years prior to the end of the season, then added “much more” to that offer, but it’s either not structured well or Harper really doesn’t want to return to Washington.

Which brings us to a tweet from former GM Steve Phillips, who believes the Nats’ offer may have been pulled. I want to caution here that I don’t make a habit of putting much faith in Phillips’ reports, not to mention he’s basing this latest bit on “feel.” But his theory seems to hold some water in light of what we’re seeing in the market.

Phillips believes the lack of acceptable offers has Boras going out and essentially trying to jump-start the market by bringing in more teams at a lower cost. That makes sense from a bidding perspective in that it creates more competition and could hook some teams that feel the price drop makes a pursuit more worthwhile. Once Boras gains a little traction, he can ratchet the price back up.

It’s also possible Boras and Harper would settle for a shorter deal than had initially been expected, even if it doesn’t contain the potential for those swellopt boosters Boras is so fond of. Should that happen, it may increase the likelihood that the Cubs get involved. Now, I want to be careful with this so as not to be accused again of riling people up.

The fact of the matter is that a shorter commitment might be enough to get a green light from an ownership that could be getting antsy for some good PR. Of course, the lower barrier to entry creates even more competition from other teams. There’s been conflicting information on the extent to which any actual “meeting” occurred, but two different sources have told Cubs Insider that Boras has at least continued to check on the Cubs’ financial situation and appetite to spend on Harper.

Once again for those in the back: I am not saying the Cubs are any closer now to landing Harper than they were a week ago. Or a week before that. Or at any point prior to Halloween, when we first learned they weren’t going to spend like drunken sailors. In fact, I think the Phillies trading for JT Realmuto means they’re still intent on signing either Harper or Machado.

As the market remains frozen just a week before the start of spring training, however, I don’t think we can rule out anything as a possibility. And that includes Boras creating enough momentum to get something done in short order. So, uh, yeah…keep waiting.

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