The San Francisco Giants are late and surprising entrants into the ongoing derby for free agent outfielder Bryce Harper. That we're within spitting distance of spring training and Harper is still among the unsigned is surprising in the extreme. So too is the Giants' surging interest in him. And, no, it's not just a rumor borne of hot stove boredom. Via John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, here's what Giants CEO Larry Baer told the masses at FanFest on Saturday:
"Bryce Harper is an amazing player. It's very hard, and these are competitions, and I can't handicap it. I don't know where we are. But we're giving it a shot. That's all we can do."
At first blush, it seems like an odd pairing. Harper presumably wants to join a contender, and the Giants have an aging roster to go with a total of 187 losses over the last two seasons. If you squint, though, you can make some sense of things. At this point, Harper may be in "highest bidder" mindset, and the Las Vegas native is likely fond of the idea of playing on the West Coast. From the Giants' standpoint, a number of factors are likely nudging them in this unexpected direction. To wit ...
Harper's market may have dropped enough to entice them.
Self-evidently Harper has yet to receive an offer that motivates him to put pen to paper. Given the late hour, the Giants may suspect that his price has dropped. Months out of the current hot stove season, it seemed plausible that Harper would fetch, oh, half a billion or so. Following a quality but less than vintage season at the plate and his worst defensive campaign to date, Harper wasn't in quite such a strong position. Since we're coming up on the middle of February and Harper's still looking for work, expectations still don't align with market realities (such as they are). Maybe the Giants now see an opportunity. The bet here is that Harper still comes close to the biggest contract in MLB history (currently Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million extension with the Marlins) or maybe even breaks that record, but that would still be eminently affordable for a team like the Giants.