Is Bryce Harper close to signing with Phillies?

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People don’t do it as much anymore, but there is a fun, weird history of fans tracking private jets allegedly containing free agents during the hot stove season. The big free agent — let’s call him Rice Larper — lives in, say, Las Cruces, and is rumored to be negotiating with, let’s say, the Pottsdown Phanatics. Someone will get on one of those air traffic trackers, see a private plane en route from Las Cruces to Pottsdown, and frantically claim it’s Larper, deal done, on his way to be introduced by the Phanatics at a surprise press conference.

It was great fun! That sort of reporting/rumor-mongering got the imagination going and stoked excitement. It was also always 100% wrong. I can’t remember a single free agent whose signing was actually reported via this sort of tea leaf reading. Which is sad, because that would totally own if it had panned out, but it just never pans out. Reporters, teams, players or, sometimes, customers in Honeybaked Ham stores break the news of these big signings, not internet gumshoes.

I offer that because there is some similar tea leaf reading going on regarding Bryce Harper and the Phillies, a team which is reportedly interested in him and which has met with him and his agent multiple times.

A Philadelphia radio station, 94WIP, is passing along a “report” — and I use those quotation marks with maximal dubiousness-signifying tone implied — that Las Vegas sports books have taken Harper landing spot prop bets off the board because he has a deal in place with the Phillies pending a physical. That report passed along by the radio station came from a Vegas-affiliated Twitter account I have never heard of. No one in the more mainstream parts of the media has run with it either, so take it for what it is. In the meantime, since there’s nothing else going on, I’m combing Twitter for confirmation or refutation of that prop bet stuff, but just know that it’s out there.

The Philly radio station likewise shows some tweets from the Twitter account behind the video game MLB The Show, which is officially-licensed by MLB and the Players’ union. Yesterday it put out these two tweets:

In the year 2019 it would not surprise me in the least to see a corporate sponsor/brand partner break the news of a big signing before a reporter did, but again, I wouldn’t take this as any more reliable than people tracking Gulfstream jets online. When a consumer product says it has “big news” it’s almost always about something it’s selling, not legitimate news.

Is all of this interesting? Sure. Am I contributing to breathless hype by passing this along, even if I do so skeptically? Oh for sure. Do I care? Nah, because it’s been a boring offseason and we can use all of the breathless hype we can get. There’s a polar vortex coming to much of the Midwest tonight, so I have to do something to keep warm. But still, take it all with a grain of salt.

If you need me, I’ll be tracking tail numbers of private jets.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.