Jim Thome is revered in White-Sox circles, and the fact that he met Bryce Harper as an emissary for the club is not that surprising. But the fact that he traveled to Vegas to meet the young free agent seems unorthodox. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes:
The White Sox, for example, enlisted the help of longtime star and Hall of Famer Jim Thome during their visit to Las Vegas, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The White Sox aren’t the only club that has traveled to Harper’s hometown to meet with the right fielder, but with the fifth-best odds to land a player of his ilk this offseason the Sox must put together an impressive dog-and-pony show. Leaked pictures of ribbon screens at the United Center caused a lot of optimism around the south side of Chicago, not to mention an apparent Harper jersey draped over Michael Jordan’s bust as well.
— Dec. 4, 6:02 p.m. —
Bruce Levine of 670 The Score provided more details on the White Sox pitch later in the afternoon Tuesday. The Sox group met with Harper on Nov. 19 and pushed young talent, financial flexibility and a major media market to put a sparkle in Harper’s eye.
“In their meeting with Harper, the White Sox tried to sell him on the young talent that has already ascended to the big leagues as well as the prospects in their pipeline who will soon be making an impact at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Another key point in any pitch to Harper from the White Sox is that Chicago is a home ripe for endorsement opportunities. That alone could add windfall opportunities for a player of Harper’s stature to make millions more outside of baseball.”
The White Sox payroll is one of the lowest in baseball offering the club a serious opportunity to spend big on this free-agent class. If the Sox can make a competitive offer, the media market could sweeten the deal. Although Harper is indeed interested in winning, I’m not sold on selling a young core in the pitch to the slugger. It’s not a stretch to believe that he understands how talent develops and the hiccups along the road to success; he certainly experienced some of those in Washington.
But according to Harper’s agent Scott Boras, above all else, ownership’s ability to engage with a player is what seals the deal.
“This is not just a baseball operations decision,” Boras told 670 The Score on Tuesday about Harper’s decision. “Every team wants a generational talent on there club. The real issue is the ownership commitment to contract with the player. Ownership must be directly involved because of the iconic value of Bryce Harper is so great. That is even independent of his baseball value.”
Passan adds that the Phillies, Dodgers and Yankees have either met or are planning to meet Harper in his hometown, along with nearly a dozen other teams with similar plans. Vegas is hosting Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings this week, a serendipitous happenstance that allows Harper to let teams travel to kiss the ring.
And why does it mean anything that the White Sox traveled to Harper? Passan writes that…
They needed to pull out all the stops, with Phillies ownership admitting the potential to spend “stupid” amounts of money this offseason and the Dodgers, with the second-highest revenues in baseball, calling upon a minority owner to potentially help score his second free-agent coup of the year.
The minority owner with the Dodgers was Magic Johnson, and if NBA royalty sways Harper’s decision I think Chicago edges out L.A.
*Johnson was later quoted in an update by Passan denying he met with Harper as a representative of the Dodgers. “The only time I remember meeting Bryce Harper was on the field at Dodger Stadium two years ago when Dusty Baker introduced us,” he said.*
What’s more interesting is that Thome traveled on the Sox behalf instead of Philly. The city of brotherly love is rumored to be the likely choice for Harper and Thome is one of their coveted alumni enshrined in their walk of fame. Thome has an active role with the White Sox making it unremarkable that he met with Harper as a White Sox rep, but there is a measure of choice that makes us wonder if Thome can sell the Sox better than the Phils.
So, what does this meeting mean? Passan explains:
Face-to-face meetings, after all, do not automatically signify a team’s desire to sign Harper. It could be getting a sense of his personality. Or his market. Or his comportment in social settings. What the Nationals know teams like the Padres or even the Cubs – who have pleaded payroll constraints this offseason – would love to learn.
Reading the tea leaves is not an easy task. The offseason is rife with smoke signals and rumors that tend to complicate interpretations of where players are leaning towards signing. And if we consider that sources often cited by industry insiders tend to leak information (or not at all in the White Sox’s case) that they want in the open, it starts to become clear that this is all just a way to steer the narrative.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens and that might not be until early next year.