When Sports Illustrated crowned Bryce Harper the LeBron James of baseball in a 2009 cover story, the publication was referring to his generational talent as a teenager. A decade later, Harper and James may also share a talent for eyebrow-raising comments about superstars on another team.
The Los Angeles Angels have contacted MLB over concerns of possible tampering after Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper very publicly pronounced his intentions to recruit superstar Mike Trout during a radio interview Tuesday, according to Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times.
Trout is still two full seasons away from free agency, the fight between his current team and his prospective suitors may have already begun for the best player in baseball.
The Harper-Trout comments that provoked the Angels’ ire
Via the Associated Press:
“If you don’t think I’m gonna call Mike Trout to come to Philly in 2020, you’re crazy,” Harper told SportsRadio 94WIP in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
“For me, I can be able to talk to Trout, or whoever it is, big-name free agent or whoever wants to come to Philly or is thinking about coming to Philly, I can say ‘Hey, this is the place to be. This is where the fans are great, ownership understands it, our manager is awesome,’” Harper said. “I can really put that faith in myself in being able to say we are able to go about it the right way, we are the Philadelphia Phillies and we want whoever wants to come to Philly.”
Clearly, Harper and the Phillies plan to call Trout’s number when he he’s a free agent. The only question is if Harper is allowed to make his intentions that clear.
What are MLB’s rules against tampering?
Here is the full tampering section in the MLB rulebook, which is predictably full of legal jargon:
To preserve discipline and competition, and to prevent the enticement of players, coaches, managers and umpires, there shall be no negotiations or dealings respecting employment, either present or prospective, between any player, coach or manager and any Major or Minor League Club other than the Club with which the player is under contract, or acceptance of terms, or by which the player is reserved or which has the player on its Negotiation List, or between any umpire and any baseball employer other than the baseball employer with which the umpire is under contract, or acceptance of terms, unless the Club or baseball employer with which the person is connected shall have, in writing, expressly authorized such negotiations or dealings prior to their commencement.
So, did Harper violate that? Maybe, as Harper’s comments could be seen as a signal that the Phillies are prepared to sign Trout, which could undermine the Angels’ negotiations for an extension.
Don’t expect the league to come down too hard on Harper though, as past instances of possible tampering like Aaron Judge telling Manny Machado “You’d look good in pinstripes” only received a public reprimand.
Even with Harper, Phillies plan to court Trout
Harper just signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies that has cemented him as one of the team’s cornerstones. The contract includes no opt-outs, a surprising provision that came because Harper wanted credibility that he is all-in when he recruits free agents to the Phillies, per Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown.
One of those free agents will likely be Trout, who is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2020 season. Harper’s contract’s unusually long length was also likely intended to give the Phillies luxury tax room to bring in free agents like Trout.
“I’m making 26 [million dollars] a year, something like that, so I think that’s going to be able to bring some other guys in as well to be able to help this organization win,” Harper said in his introductory press conference with the Phillies, per Philly.com. “I know there’s another guy in about two years that comes off the books. We’ll see what happens with him.”
The Phillies have reportedly already begun reserving money for the Trout sweepstakes, as the Angels center fielder will likely command a contract that shatters Harper’s record for the biggest contract in the history of North American sports.
The Phillies are the Angels’ natural threat for Trout
For years, the New York Yankees were expected to be Bryce Harper’s landing spot in free agency, thanks mainly to their money and Harper’s pronouncements that he had grown up as a Yankees fan (and, coincidentally, a Lakers fan).
And yet, when Harper actually became a free agent, the Yankees were nowhere to be seen in the bidding. Thanks to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, they were just fine when it came to slugging corner outfielders. If the Yankees really wanted Harper, who knows what could have happened.
That story isn’t likely to repeat with Trout and the Phillies.
The Phillies very obviously want Trout — any team would — and should have the money for him. The only question is how much Trout wants Philadelphia, and the answer to that is probably bad news for the Angels.
Trout grew up in southern New Jersey, just an hour out of Philly, and still lives there in the offseason. He remains a massive fan of the Eagles (per the Times, he’s a season-ticket holder) and the 76ers. The Angels have repeatedly signaled they want Trout to sign an extension, something the star has given them a very limited window to do, but it’s hard to imagine Trout not hitting the market barring an absolute monster of a deal.
Like Anthony Davis, Trout won’t be a free agent until 2020. That won’t stop fans from drawing as many lines as they can between the stars and their theoretical destinations, something that is quite easy in Trout’s case. Both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in Phillies uniforms is beginning to feel more and more like a real possibility, and the first gauntlet might have just been thrown down in the Angels’ attempt to stop it.
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