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February 17, 2019

Breaking down when Bryce Harper could sign as rumors swirl about potential deal with Phillies

The following is pure speculation based on specks of information we know.

Bryce Harper is signing, possibly soon. Manny Machado will eventually ink a deal as well. They are two of the best free agents in recent memory and have held the offseason hostage as they each wait for the perfect contract.

New teams seem to emerge every now and then, like the Padres and Giants, while other interested parties have moved on, like the Dodgers and Yankees. We have to be nearing an end, right? 

When will it be over?

Here are a few possible milestone dates to watch for:

February 18

Pitchers and catchers reported around a week ago for all 30 MLB squads. On Monday Feb. 18, position players have their mandatory reporting date for the Phillies and the majority of other teams. The Giants and Yankees dates are the following day, on Tuesday.

Why is this important? Well, should Harper and Machado want a full spring training with their new teams, this is the day things officially start — though most players on most teams report early anyway. This is the first big date the free agent stars would miss if they continue their waiting game.

February 22

This is the first game for the Phillies — who will travel to Port Charlotte to face the Rays this coming Friday. It would make sense for free agents to target this date to be with a team, as the more at bats one gets in spring training the easier it is for them get to playing shape for the upcoming season.

March 12

This seems kind of like a random date. This year, it's a Tuesday off day right in the middle of the spring training schedule. But precedent suggests this is a day of importance. A year ago, Jake Arrieta — the best free agent remaining at the time — signed with the Phillies. His three-year $75 million gives him close to the annual salary Harper and Machado are likely to be seeking. 

Arrieta got two starts and five innings of work as he quickly prepared to open the season as the Phillies' No. 2 pitcher. His late signing is a sign of the possibility of things dragging on for nearly a month longer. It is possible Harper and or Machado wait until mid-spring training to make their decision.

March 28

It's hard to imagine things could go on this long, but opening day for the Phillies is March 28, when they'll host the Braves to start the 2019 regular season. At the very very worst, it's probably safe to assume this nightmare of free agency will be over — mercifully— by then.

Of course, Harper could have a contract in place and things could happen sometime Sunday, making all of these moot points. But I wouldn't count on it.

Here's our daily live stream/open thread to help fans follow the slow-moving hot stove as it continues:

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