The Phillies will renew what has been at times a trying, but always interesting, relationship with baseball’s most powerful agent when club leaders travel to Las Vegas on Saturday.
Somewhere in that desert town of bright lights and big shows, Phillies officials will sit across from Bryce Harper, one of the two megastars on this winter’s free-agent market. The other, of course, is Manny Machado, a player the Phillies have already visited with and are actively trying to sign.
The Phillies’ interest in Harper is real, but for months it has been clear that Machado is the team’s priority. It is unlikely the team would sign both players and club president Andy MacPhail indicated as much back in October. If Machado signs elsewhere, the Phillies’ interest in Harper could swell, hence Saturday’s meeting with the player in Las Vegas. It will be the first time Phillies officials have met with Harper. They have already had several ground-laying conversations with Harper’s super-agent, Scott Boras.
The current Phillies front office knows Boras well, having hammered out a deal with him for Jake Arrieta last year.
But Boras’ relationship with the franchise goes back farther than that and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Working out a deal for first-rounder Carlton Loewer in 1994 was easy, but it was a different story just a few years later when the two sides could not come to an agreement for No. 2 overall pick J.D. Drew and he re-entered the draft after a year of acrimonious negotiations that included Boras appearing via satellite from California on our very own sports network and getting into a testy verbal joust with Curt Schilling, who was then still a Phillie and sticking up for his team.
The Phillies had only limited dealings with Boras for a while after L’Affaire Drew. Things got a little sticky in the fall of 2011 when the two sides were moving toward a contract extension for free agent Ryan Madson before the Phillies quickly pivoted and signed Jonathan Papelbon. Boras was none too happy with the Phillies, but he didn’t hold a grudge. He never does. He didn’t become the game’s most powerful agent by closing doors on potential landing spots for his guys. Heck, he even put on a happy face during the Drew saga and negotiated a one-year deal with the Phils for infielder Mark Lewis in December 1997.
The dust from the Drew situation has long settled and the days when Boras was likened in Philadelphia to the Big Bad Wolf have faded. Even Boras jokes about that. A former minor-league infielder, he recently told of how his affiliation with the Phillies went back to his teen years when he played on a scout team in the Sacramento area run by Eddie Bockman, the legendary former Phillies scout who signed Larry Bowa, Bob Boone and John Vukovich.
“So I wore a Phillie uniform every winter when I had the privilege of playing in that program,” Boras said. “I love the Philadelphia fans, I love their intensity. I love how they treat the game of baseball. So I have nothing but brotherly love for the city of Philadelphia.”
Does Harper feel the same way?
There have been reports that he does not. That’s one of the topics Phillies officials will drill into during their meeting.
Where once there were few, Boras’ stable is now loaded with clients who are Phillies. Arrieta, Nick Williams and Vince Velasquez are all Boras men. Late last summer, Boras snagged Rhys Hoskins as a client. Boras reps Sixto Sanchez, the team’s top pitching prospect, Cole Irvin, the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year in 2018, and Cornelius Randolph, the team’s top pick in the 2015 draft.
Maybe he’ll soon represent another Phillie in Harper. Or maybe the Phillies will get Machado instead. If that happens, Boras won’t hold a grudge. He will look for the next match with the team. Mike Moustakas? Dallas Keuchel? Those are his guys, too, and they are still out there and the Phils have had considered both.
Managing partner John Middleton will lead the Phillies contingent to Vegas on Saturday. You know Boras has to be elated about that. Middleton and Boras have some similarities. Both are extremely competitive and want to win. And both are wildly successful businessmen. Boras has long preferred to sit at a negotiating table with the people who own teams. It’s almost as if he sees them as equals speaking a shared language. He likes to sell owners on the overall impact that a superstar like Harper will have on an organization, from wins on the field to revenues and franchise values that are generated by those wins.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall Saturday in Vegas.
It will surely be an interesting show.
It always is with Scott Boras and the Phillies.
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