Monday's MLB: Dodgers, Phillies meet with slugger Bryce Harper

Associated Press
Bryce Harper remains a free agent.

Glendale, Ariz. — Bryce Harper met with the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend, a sign the market for the star free agent might be picking up as spring training enters its second full week.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts confirmed the Sunday night meeting, saying it was “good.”

“Just trying to get to know each other,” Roberts said Monday. “In the spirit of us, as the Dodgers, vetting a certain process makes sense, and for those guys to do their due diligence as well.”

Roberts declined to comment about possible terms for a contract with Harper, saying, “I personally have to focus on the 61 guys that are here.”

Harper has been connected to the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants during a second consecutive slow free-agent market for the sport. Phillies ownership spent time with Harper in Las Vegas over the weekend, but returned to camp in Florida without a deal and without any indication a deal was close.

Manny Machado, the other top free agent this winter, signed a $300 million, 10-year deal with the San Diego Padres on Thursday.

The 26-year-old Harper was the 2015 NL MVP and made six All-Star teams in seven big league seasons with the Washington Nationals. He batted .249 with 34 home runs, 100 RBIs and an .889 OPS last year.

A Harper signing could displace projected starting left fielder Joc Pederson, who has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason. Pederson said last week he was affected by the winter chatter, and he struck out twice and made an error Monday in an 11-2 spring training win over the Cubs amid reports of the meeting with Harper.

“With Joc, I am not concerned,” Roberts said. “In baseball, there’s always speculation. He understands that. He’s a professional, so I don’t think that affected him today.”

Pederson said he expects the Dodgers “to do whatever it is that is going to help them win” and that “right now, I am part of that and that’s all I can control.”'

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws during the first inning of an exhibition game Monday.

Verlander begins

In West Palm Beach, Fla. a brief high velocity matchup between Houston’s Justin Verlander and the New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard overshadowed Jose Altuve’s first spring-training appearance for the Astros.

Verlander, the former TIger, pitched two perfect innings on a cloudy and blustery afternoon, striking out one and getting five fly-ball outs. Reaching 96 mph, Verlander threw 20 of 25 pitches for strikes Monday, concentrating on his changeup and pitching inside to right-handed batters. The 2011 AL MVP was happy with four of his seven changeups.

“That’s a pitch that I am trying to throw more,” the 2011 AL MVP said.

Syndergaard opened with three consecutive 98-mph fastballs and allowed first-inning hits to George Springer and Josh Reddick. Syndergaard struck out the final two hitters of his two-inning outing, including Robinson Chirinos on a 99 mph fastball.

“It felt really good,” said Syndergaard, who’s missed significant time during the past two seasons because of injuries. “It felt like my arm strength was free and easy. It’s encouraging to see some swing and misses on my four-seam fastball up in the zone.”

Yankees extend Hicks

Making another move to keep their core of players together, the New York Yankees agreed to a $70-million, seven-year contract with outfielder Aaron Hicks.

Hicks’ agreement adds $64 million in guaranteed money over six seasons and club option for 2026 that could make it worth $81.5 million over eight seasons.

“This is the organization I want to stay with,” Hicks said during a news conference Monday. “The team here is a team that I want to be with. I think it has a bright future.”

A 29-year-old switch-hitter, Hicks took over as the Yankees primary center fielder last year and set career highs with 137 games, 27 homers and 79 RBIs. He agreed on Jan. 11 to a $6 million, one-year contract and would have been eligible for free agency after this season.

“I’m thrilled,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s just really an elite level player.”

His new, superseding deal calls for a $2-million signing bonus and keeps the $6-million salary this year. He gets $10.5 million annually from 2020-23 and $9.5 million in each of the following two seasons. The Yankees have a $12.5-million option for 2026 with a $1-million buyout.

Around the horn

Versatile free agent Marwin Gonzalez is officially a Minnesota Twin.

The multi-positional player reported to spring training on Monday after signing a $21-million, two-year contract. At a news conference at the team’s spring ballpark, manager Rocco Baldelli said he was excited to have a player who can fill so many positions.

But don’t call him a utilityman.

Baldelli said Gonzalez is an everyday player who can play multiple positions. The 29-year-old Gonzalez gets $12 million this year and $9 million in 2020. He spent his first six seasons with the Astros. In his best year, 2017, he batted .303 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs, finishing in the top 20 in AL MVP voting and helping Houston to the title.

... The Colorado Rockies agreed to a three-year contract extension with manager Bud Black after he guided the team to back-to-back playoff appearances. His contract now runs through the 2022 season, the team announced Monday.