Mike Matheny: “We’ve taken a step back” with Allen Craig’s return timetable

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Allen Craig had made such good progress in his recovery from offseason knee surgery that beginning the season on the Cardinals’ active roster as a bench player became a possibility earlier this week, but this morning manager Mike Matheny all but squashed those plans.

Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that “we’ve taken a step back” with Craig’s return timetable and his being ready for Opening Day is no longer likely.

There’s certainly no reason to take any risks with Craig’s recovery in the name of getting him a handful of early season at-bats in a bench role and there’s no indication that the “step back” is a major one, at least not yet. Initially he was expected to miss all of April and perhaps even a big chunk of May, so Craig is still way ahead of schedule.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.