Perhaps sensing an opportunity to pounce and snag one of baseball’s superstars as he remains unemployed two weeks into spring training, Dodgers officials met with free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper in Las Vegas on Sunday night, manager Dave Roberts confirmed Monday morning.
Roberts said it was the Dodgers’ first meeting with Harper since he became a free agent. Roberts joined Chairman Mark Walter, team President Stan Kasten, and Andrew Friedman, the club’s president of baseball operations, on the trip. A formal offer was not made, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
“It was good,” said Roberts, who declined to elaborate on the meeting. “Just kind of trying to get to know each other and I think in the spirit of us as the Dodgers, vetting a certain process makes sense. And for those guys to do their due diligence as well.”
Kasten declined to comment on the gathering.
Harper is seeking a deal for at least 10 years and north of $300 million. Manny Machado, the other 26-year-old star free agent on the market, signed a 10-year, $300-million deal with the San Diego Padres last week.
The Dodgers, however, have sought a shorter-term pact with Harper and have not given any indication that their stance has changed. Friedman has built a perennial contender in Los Angeles without handing out bloated long-term contracts to free agents; A.J. Pollock’s $55-million deal signed last month is the richest deal Friedman has given to a free agent since the Dodgers hired him in October 2014.
“I’m not too hopeful or anything,” Roberts said. “This is just talk. It’s conversation.”
Arguably the most marketable and popular player in the majors, Harper’s on-field performance has oscillated from year to year. He displayed the limitless potential projected since his days as a high school phenom in 2015, when he hit .330 with 42 home runs and a 1.109 on-base-plus-slugging percentage for the Washington Nationals. He won the NL MVP award unanimously.
He followed that historic campaign by batting .243 with an .814 OPS in 2016. Harper hinted that he played hurt that season, but never specified the issue. The Nationals denied that Harper was dealing with an injury.
He returned to his previous form in 2017 and probably would have won another MVP if he didn’t slip on a wet first base in August. Harper sustained a bone bruise and calf strain, and didn’t return until late September. He finished the regular season with a .319 batting average, 1.008 OPS, and 29 home runs in 111 games.
The fluctuation continued last season. He had a .214 batting average at the All-Star break, but still made the NL All-Star team and won the Home Run Derby in Washington. He concluded the campaign with a better second half, finishing with a .249 batting average, 34 home runs and an .889 OPS.
“I do know Bryce,” Roberts said. “I’ve spent some time with him at the All-Star game. And so, obviously, heck of a player. Really great family man. Great guy.”
The Dodgers have five outfielders on their 40-man roster — Pollock, Andrew Toles, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo. Toles, however, has not reported to camp as he deals with a personal matter. Utility players Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor also have significant major league experience in the outfield.
Adding Harper would create a surplus the Dodgers could trade from to address other areas. But they have to sign him first.
“I mean, everyone’s meeting with him,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “So we’ll think about that if it happens.”