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Coming Out Of Left Field: Baseball Superstar Bryce Harper Has Yet To Choose New Team

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Most Major League Baseball players are in spring training by now. There is one notable player missing from the action, though - superstar outfielder Bryce Harper, formerly of the Washington Nationals. He has yet to choose a new team.

Tons of speculation about what is taking him so long and where he's going to end up - let's put those questions to Claire McNear. She writes for the website The Ringer. Hey, Claire.

CLAIRE MCNEAR: Hey there. Great to be here.

KELLY: So Bryce Harper was playing great here in D.C. for the Nats. Fans here love him. Why not just stay? Why make this complicated?

MCNEAR: So the story is that at the very beginning of the offseason, the Nationals actually did make him an offer, and quite a sizable one. They reportedly offered him a 10-year, $300 million contract, which he rejected and sort of set off on this search that is still ongoing.

KELLY: And what was wrong with the 10-year, $300 million contract, which sounds pretty darn good?

MCNEAR: It does sound pretty good, at least from the outside. I mean, it's hard to say. This is all behind closed doors, and we'll never really kind of know for sure. It could be that Harper wanted more years or more money or maybe more flexibility, perhaps an opt-out at some point in that contract. For whatever reason, the teams, you know, weren't able to reach an agreement.

So here we are. And it's almost March, and Harper still does not have a new team. And opening day is just weeks away. So this has led to some kind of obsessive reading of the tea leaves, particularly amongst fans of the three teams currently thought to be favorites to sign him. You know, but it's - we've got people tracking a private plane that belongs to Phillies owner John Middleton, and it was spotted in Las Vegas, which is where Harper lives.

We have Smash Mouth, the band behind the '90s hit "All Star." They've become an unlikely advocate for the San Francisco Giants in their attempt to woo Harper. But they've been having something of a meltdown on Twitter since the news broke a few days ago that the Dodgers, the hated divisional rival of the Giants, are after Harper, too.

KELLY: Is it surprising at all to you, as somebody who tracks Major League Baseball, that there wasn't an all-out bidding frenzy for this superstar like Bryce Harper?

MCNEAR: Absolutely. And I think that that really is the big story of the offseason. It's a strange time. The last two offseasons have been pretty quiet, especially for these superstars. There is not a team in baseball that would not be better with Harper on the team.

And there are a lot of teams that are kind of in some version of a tank or a committed rebuild. They're not trying to win right now. And as a consequence of that, they're not really interested in signing big stars that would help them win games. They're kind of trying to sit in the basement for a while and hoard draft picks and, you know, train up young guys before they actually try to start winning.

This would've been inconceivable even a few years ago - that there's so seemingly little interest in players like Harper.

KELLY: And in terms of Harper's stake and how he comes out of all this, will he lose anything by taking so long to figure out where he's headed?

MCNEAR: Absolutely, he will. It takes a long time. We have spring training for a reason. It takes a while to warm up and to learn to play together as a team. So a star coming in late really is kind of put into a tough position.

KELLY: All right. So I'm going to force you to go on the record here. Where do you think he's going to land?

MCNEAR: Oh, God. I hate to - so I am a Giants fan engaged to a Philadelphia fan, and I live in Washington, D.C. So...

KELLY: You either can't win or can't lose, I guess.

MCNEAR: No, no. I hope very much that it is San Francisco. But I think, you know, if Harper wants to win now - and there are indications that maybe he does want to get to the World Series, maybe win the World Series pretty soon - I think Los Angeles makes a whole lot of sense.

KELLY: That's Claire McNear. She writes for the website The Ringer. Thank you, Claire.

MCNEAR: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.