Braves fans fantasizing about Bryce Harper manning right field at SunTrust Park were dealt reality this winter.
Harper, perhaps the most illustrious free agent in history, has yet to choose his new destination. Two National League East teams, the incumbent Nationals and the ambitious Phillies, seem to be his most likely destinations.
There was speculation – albeit, more wishful thinking – that the Braves would delve into his market with their freed up dollars. General manager Alex Anthopoulos shut down those thoughts early in the offseason when he explained it didn’t make sense for the mid-market franchise to allocate so much money to one player (possibly $300 million) over the expected amount of years (eight to 10).
Among the connecting dots for a Harper-Braves union was Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ franchise player who’s friends with Harper. The former MVP was also linked to the Cubs for a similar reason: He’s very tight with fellow Las Vegas native Kris Bryant.
Bryant recently said the Cubs won’t be Harper’s landing spot, which most figured. Days later, Freeman acknowledged he never felt Harper would end up with a tomahawk on his chest.
“No,” Freeman said when asked if there was a point he believed Harper to Atlanta was possible. “I don’t know what his market is or what’s going on. I don’t know the numbers that have been thrown around. I obviously talked to him about how great it is here during that All-Star game (in Washington). We text a lot still.
“Did I ever make a play for him to come here? No. I never said – I’ve seen that going around in the media, saying how good friends we are – we are good friends. I’ve never been told to try to lure him here or tell him good things. I just tell him the truth of how I feel about Atlanta and you never know what could happen. Market could come down and you never know. But I’ve never tried to get Bryce here.”
The Braves ultimately made their biggest investment in another former MVP, Josh Donaldson, on a one-year $23 million deal. That allows them to further evaluate their in-house talent while entering next winter with spending room.
As perfect a fit as Harper might be – and he’d fit the lineup beautifully – he appears destined for an NL East rival, especially as the Dodgers reportedly make progress toward adding A.J. Pollock.
Freeman and Harper haven’t spoken since just before Christmas, but Freeman is aware the Phillies are ultra aggressive. He knows if their hopes come to fruition, and they add Harper plus another couple free agents, the division will be that much tougher.
But he hasn’t advised Harper on where to go, and he’s eager to see the decision as much as everyone else.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do. I don’t know what he’s waiting for – I mean c’mon, let’s get this thing going,” Freeman said, laughing. “I wouldn’t mind seeing him 19 times a year.”