The San Diego Padres met with free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper on Thursday in Las Vegas, sources familiar with the meeting told ESPN, officially adding a suitor to a list of teams that now numbers four and could expand as spring training approaches.
The emergence of San Diego as a possible destination for Harper dovetailed with a number of other potential moves by the Padres, sources said, including the pursuit of the other available free-agent star, Manny Machado, and a potential trade for Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Harper's allure to the Padres is clear: Despite a glut in the corner-outfield spots, the addition of a star-level talent clearly would improve an on-the-come team.
Just how soon the Padres will be ready to win is an important factor as Harper considers how San Diego rates with three other teams still considering signing him: the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals, the latter of which where he spent the first seven years of his career. The other main factor: just how much the Padres are willing to spend to sign Harper.
Their late entry into the Harper and Machado derbies came on the heels of an industry-wide sense that the markets for the 26-year-olds were tepid. San Diego went 66-96 last season, and its free-agent acquisitions this winter -- the injured Garrett Richards and 36-year-old second baseman Ian Kinsler -- don't foretell a grand leap. Still, the Padres' greatest selling points are their seeming payroll flexibility and their loaded farm system, which includes shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., the No. 1 prospect in Keith Law's top 100.
Padres officials traveling to Harper's hometown signified a serious enough interest not to discount them. Whether they'll satisfy the long-term deal Harper seeks or propose a shorter-term, higher-salary contract could provide a road map for the entry of others into the bidding for Harper. With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in less than two weeks, the Harper and Machado markets might finally be starting to move and offer a conclusion to the most drawn-out story of the winter.