Bryce Harper makes recruiting pitch to Mike Trout, and the Angels are not happy
At his introductory news conference Saturday in Clearwater, Florida, after he signed a 13-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper said that his relatively low annual salary of approximately $25.4 million would allow his new team “to bring some other guys in.” He mentioned at the time “another guy in about two years that comes off the books,” which everyone understood to be a sly reference to Los Angeles Angels slugger and Philadelphia-area native Mike Trout.
On Tuesday, Harper wasn’t sly at all.
“If you don’t think I’m going to call Mike Trout in 2020, to have him to come to Philly, you’re crazy,” Harper told a Philadelphia sports-radio station. Trout’s contract with Los Angeles expires after the 2020 season, and his current team was not amused.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Angels responded, complaining to Major League Baseball about possible tampering. Punishment can range from a reprimand to a fine.
“We’ve been in touch with MLB and we have no further comment at this time,” general manager Billy Eppler told the Times in a text message.
Trout, an avowed Philadelphia Eagles fan, may want to form a superstar partnership with Harper, who likely endeared himself further to Phillies fans.
The 26-year-old former Washington Nationals star touted his lengthy commitment to Philadelphia as something that can “help recruit guys” to his team. “For me, I can be able to talk to Trout,” he said, “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.’ 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,” he continued. “If you don’t want to come to Philly, then don’t come. Don’t be part of it.
“But if you want to come be part of a winning team and a winning culture, then we are going to need the best players to do that. I don’t think [team owner] John [Middleton] is scared to go out and get the best guys that we need to have.”
Middleton certainly didn’t sound scared when he declared at the outset of free agency in November, “We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” He backed up those words not only with Harper’s contract, the largest in MLB history in terms of total dollars, but also by reeling in several other marquee names, including catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura via trade and reliever David Robertson and outfielder Andrew McCutchen via free agency.
Harper, however, was easily the biggest fish on the market, especially after Manny Machado joined the San Diego Padres for $300 million over 10 years. In telling the world that he wanted to land Trout, though, Harper may well have set himself up for a boatload of grief from the commissioner’s office.
Last year, after the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge said that Machado, then with the Baltimore Orioles, would “look good in pinstripes,” his team got a stern talking-to.
“We have been in contact with the Yankees,” MLB said in a statement. “They communicated to us that Mr. Judge’s off the cuff comments were not appropriate and not authorized by the club. They will speak to him to make sure that this does not happen again.”
Judging from Harper’s comments Saturday, it was actually Trout who sold him on signing with the Phillies. Harper said he “talked to him a lot” during the offseason while going through his free agency process, as he was “just trying to get a hometown kid to tell me what he felt, how he felt about the organization and the area and things like that.”
“He’s a kid who grew up seeing the Phillies have success, so going through those times with the fans and things like that,” Harper said of Trout, who has fondly recalled celebrating the Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship, just a year before he was drafted out of high school by the Angels. “It was good to get his perspective and hear how he felt.”
At some point in the next couple of years, if he so chooses, Trout could forego free agency by signing a contract extension with the Angels. If so, it wouldn’t be for lack of people not named Harper trying to get him to return home.
“I don’t think I went a day this offseason without someone saying, ‘When are you coming to Philly?’ ” Trout said last month. “I can’t predict the future. I don’t know.”
It’s possible that Harper might not have to say much of anything to get Trout to come back to Philadelphia, and it may well depend on how much more “stupid” money Middleton has to spare. In the meantime, Harper said Tuesday he had no plans to continue reaching out to his fellow all-star, now that the offseason is over.
“I think it’s respecting Mike Trout in a certain way during the season,” he said, “letting him play and do the things he needs to do to, of course, be Mike Trout.”