Was Bryce Harper just … kissing back?

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The plot — which was already kind of thin to begin with, even if it was fun — has thickened. CSN Washington reports that it’s possible that when Bryce Harper blew that kiss at the pitcher the other day, he was merely returning the favor from an earlier incident. As reported first by the Hagerstown Herald-Mail:

“Monday’s drama started in the first inning when Neal struck out Harper on a borderline call Harper didn’t care for to end the first inning. Some observers said Tuesday that the groundwork for the incident started there, with Neal sending a kiss in Harper’s direction after the whiff.”

In other words, this whole affair may be less about the unwritten rules and professional deportment than it is about the hot, simmering desire between Harper and the opposing pitchers of the Sally League.  Which frankly, is a way better story if you ask me.

Now, let us relive the passion:

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Report: Indians, Padres still talking about starting pitching trade

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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Indians and Padres are still discussing a potential trade for a starting pitcher, namely Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. Rosenthal adds that a deal isn’t close and is unlikely to occur before Opening Day. The Padres are balking at the Indians’ asking prices for the two starters.

The Padres could certainly use an ace at the top of the rotation. With the addition of Manny Machado, the lineup is looking decent, but beyond Joey Lucchesi, the starting pitching doesn’t inspire confidence.

Kluber, who turns 33 years old next month, has club options for the next two seasons at $13.5 million and $14 million with $1 million buyouts each. Last year, the right-hander finished third in AL Cy Young balloting, finishing 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA and a 222/34 K/BB ratio in 215 innings.

Bauer, 28, is earning $13 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration heading into 2020. Last year, Bauer went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA and a 221/57 K/BB ratio across 175 1/3 innings.

The Indians are the prohibitive favorites in the AL Central once again, but that has as much to do with the mediocrity of the rest of the division as the Indians’ commitment to competing. If the Indians were to trade either or both starters, that would be good news for the Twins, who are projected to be 15 games worse than the Indians but still finish in second place, according to PECOTA from Baseball Prospectus.