MESA, Ariz. — The game meant little. At least the game on the field. The other game, the battle for Bryce Harper, might mean a great deal. Then again...
This is the joy of spring training, along with watching a young prospect you hardly can wait to develop: rumors and hints and speculation about a deal that could be finalized.
About where Bryce Harper, the man of the hour, the free agent du jour now that Manny Machado has joined the Padres, will be when the baseball season starts in a month.
The team we were told would be signing Harper to a contract, if for fewer years than he wanted, the dreaded, wealthy, almost-champion Los Angeles Dodgers, came to Mesa on Wednesday.
And with the sort of pitching that got L.A. to the World Series, the Dodgers defeated the Athletics, 5-3, before 4,821 fans at HoHoKam Stadium.
Although this is Oakland’s spring training home, the place was chock-a-block with blue jerseys, Dodgers partisans cheerfully motoring some 25 miles east of L.A.’s spring headquarters in Glendale. They seemed emboldened by the news that the Dodgers now were ahead of the pack in the race — or slog, if you will — for Harper.
But during the game, stories floated through the press box: The San Francisco Giants once more were talking to Harper.
Perhaps they don’t mean much. As pointed out a year ago in the case of another valuable asset, Giancarlo Stanton, the Giants and their fans had their hopes kicked all the way to the Bronx. He became a Yankee.
So, best be wary. The Phillies apparently already have withdrawn from the Harper sweepstakes that only a few hours earlier they supposedly were set to win. Or would that be lose?
One baseball man in attendance at Mesa said the Giants would be making a mistake signing Harper for something like $300 million (yikes) and for 10 years (double yikes).
After all, he’s 26 and maybe has five or six highly productive years remaining. So why take the chance?
Maybe because the Giants, after two miserable seasons, after a loss of ticket holders, after a decline in national interest — ESPN, MLB Network — need a jolt, someone who not only would help them win games (as one presumes he would) but help them become a major attraction once more.
The late Peter Magowan took a chance of sorts in 1993 by signing a free agent named Barry Bonds, and that single transaction made the Giants credible and successful. The new ballpark that would open in 2000 needed a name, a star. And Barry Lamar Bonds, faults and virtues, home runs and media misery, was a star.
Who knows what the Giants' new president, Farhan Zaidi, is thinking? Who knows what the Giants are able and willing to spend, although just the other day one of their pitchers, Derek Holland, a gambler, told us that like cards, you don’t take the pot without making audacious moves.
In attendance at Mesa, understandably, was Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations. While all the talk about Harper was going on, seemingly it didn’t involve Friedman, who during the game, according to one observer, never spoke on his cell phone.
So? That doesn’t mean anything, other than Friedman possibly wanted to concentrate on the ballplayers already in a Dodgers uniform.
Since this was an A’s home game, it would only be justified if Oakland were involved in trying to sign Harper. But the A’s don’t have the money. What they do have is a team that last year made the postseason, quite an attribute.
The A’s don’t need Harper. Neither, in truth, do the Dodgers, although arguably he could be the missing piece that enables them at last to win the championship of baseball.
The Giants, lacking power and lacking a new luminary, very much could use him. Perhaps it would be a mistake to sign him. Or maybe it could be the move that revitalizes a sagging franchise.