Cody Bellinger was sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout at Camelback Ranch during the third inning of Thursday’s exhibition game against the Colorado Rockies when the news spread along the bench.
Free-agent slugger Bryce Harper had signed a 13-year, $330-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, spurning both the Dodgers, who made a late bid for the six-time All-Star, and their National League West rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
“It’s really a pretty big contract, so … good for him, congratulations to him, it’s a great accomplishment,” Bellinger said “It’s the National League still, but it’s great that he’s not in the division.”
Had Harper signed with the Giants, who reportedly offered a 12-year, $312-million deal, the Dodgers would have to face him 18 or 19 times a year. Now, they’ll have to face him only six or seven times a year.
“Wherever he landed, ultimately, we were gonna have to make an adjustment, whether it was here or San Francisco or Philadelphia,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He felt that’s what was best for him and his family.”
Bellinger, who played first base and center field last season, moved to right field this spring to accommodate new center fielder A.J. Pollock, who signed a four-year, $55-million contract in January. Had the Dodgers landed Harper, who plays right field, Bellinger probably would have moved to left field.
“Yeah, he’s a pretty good player,” Bellinger said of Harper, the NL most valuable player in 2015, “so I would have welcomed it.”
The Dodgers did not appear to be serious contenders for Harper, who lives in Las Vegas, for much of the winter, but that changed earlier in February when they sensed Harper might be reluctant to sign with the favored Phillies.
Dodgers chairman Mark Walter, team president Stan Kasten, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and Roberts flew to Las Vegas for a three-hour meeting in which they tried to sell Harper on a short-term contract with a team that has won six straight division titles, played in the last two World Series and is built to win now.
“Our mind-set, and the way we go about personnel moves, is to never say never to anything, to explore anything that’s out there and figure out if something makes sense,” Friedman said Thursday, shortly before Harper’s decision was reported. “If it does, we’ll be aggressive. If it doesn’t, we feel we’re in a good position with respect to our position players and pitching staff.”
The Dodgers’ contract offer to Harper was believed to be in the four-year range with an average annual value of $40 million to $45 million a year.
“The Dodgers, like most teams that are smart, had strong interest in Bryce,” said Scott Boras, Harper’s agent. “Their position on it was more of a strong and shorter term. I think just fit-wise, what Bryce and [wife] Kayla’s needs were, they we’re really focused more on the long term.”
Several Dodgers were surprised at the length of Harper’s contract — “13 years is interesting,” third baseman Justin Turner said — but there wasn’t really a sense of disappointment that Harper did not choose Los Angeles.
“My whole thing is, it’s real when it happens,” pitcher Rich Hill said. “You don’t really hold your breath until it happens.”
Added Turner: “It’s all just dialogue until something actually happens. There are all kinds of rumors, people write all kinds of stuff, and I’ve learned throughout the years that rumors are rumors until the deal is done and signed.”
With Harper’s deal, Nolan Arenado signing an eight-year, $260-million contract with the Rockies and Manny Machado signing a 10-year, $300-million contract with San Diego, there is already speculation about how much Angels center fielder Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, will command in his next deal.
“I don’t know,” Bellinger said of Trout, who can become a free agent after 2020. “Probably more?”