The impression throughout Bryce Harper’s protracted free agency has been that the Philadelphia Phillies are the most likely team to land the slugger. This became even more the case Friday morning, when the owner of Harper’s current team, the Washington Nationals, said in an interview (per the Inquisitr) that the team was not only out on Harper, but that they hadn’t spoken with him or his agent in “months.”
Now, there’s another report indicating that the Phillies are moving closer to Harper: the Phillies’ owner’s plane has been spotted in the slugger’s hometown of Las Vegas.
“A source in Las Vegas tells me that Phillies owner John Middleton’s plane is on the ground in that city,” longtime Phillies reporter Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia said Friday night on Twitter. “Vegas is Bryce Harper’s home town. No other details, but talks clearly ongoing.”
Jon Heyman, a baseball reporter known to be close to Harper’s agent Scott Boras, quoted Salisbury’s tweet and added, “Team Bryce is in Las Vegas. Things are getting interesting.”
While it’s possible, assuming the report is true, that Middleton is merely enjoying a weekend jaunt to Las Vegas, Boras is known for wanting to sometimes reach final deals with his clients by speaking directly to team owners.
Bob Nightengale, another top MLB reporter, added on Twitter that “you get the feeling
#Phillies owner John Middleton plans to be bringing some extra passengers and carry-on luggage on his return flight to Clearwater.” The owner has been reported as in attendance at the Phillies’ spring training complex in Florida since the start of spring training last week.
Middleton, who became a billionaire when his family sold its cigar company, has been the Phillies’ primary owner since 2015. The team, for many years, was owned by a consortium of mostly reclusive investors, while always represented by a team president as their frontman.
Following the passing away of a few of the owners, Middleton, previously a minority owner, gradually consolidated his stake and has assumed a more visible role. Middleton’s rise coincided with a new front office, led by veteran baseball executive Andy MacPhail and young general manager Matt Klentak.
While most teams throughout Major League Baseball have been pulling back on their spending this offseason, the Phillies have been upfront about seeking to add payroll. Middleton famously said, at the beginning of the winter, that the team might even get “a little bit stupid” with its spending on free agents.