According to a report by Ken Rosenthal of the MLB Network, executives from the San Diego Padres met with outfielder Bryce Harper in Las Vegas on Thursday night, signaling their interest in pursuing the superstar this offseason.

Bryce Harper San Diego Padres
Bryce Harper met with the San Diego Padres in Las Vegas on Thursday night. (Image: Nick Wass/AP)

The Padres have now been linked with the two biggest free agents on the market, as earlier reports have connected them with shortstop Manny Machado, who is also unsigned.

Padres Have Room to Grow

San Diego went just 66-96 last season, and their offseason has been quiet so far – even by the standards of the slow moving free agent market that has been seen this winter. But the Padres now appear ready to splash some cash, as they have shown interest not only with Harper and Machado, but also Miami Marlins catcher JT Realmuto, who is on the trade market.

Harper likely will want to go to a franchise that has designs on contending for a World Series title, and at first glance, San Diego doesn’t seem to fit that bill. But the Padres are built for long term success thanks to a deep farm system and plenty of budget room for more marquee signings both this year and in the future.

The 26-year-old Harper is coming off a fairly disappointing year, at least by his lofty standards. While he hit 34 homers and knocked in 100 RBIs, he hit just .249 with a .889 OPS.

The Padres – and other suitors – would have plenty of interest in a player who could put up those numbers, but will likely expect even more from Harper, who has been named an All-Star six times in his first seven seasons. He also won the 2015 NL MVP award when he led the league in home runs (42), runs scored (118) and OPS (1.109).

Four-Team Race for Harper Developing

If the Padres want to lure Harper to San Diego, however, they’ll need to outbid a handful of other teams that have publicly declared their interest in the outfielder.

Both the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox are considering signing Harper, with the Phillies in particular looking to contend for a title in 2019. Also in contention are the Washington Nationals, the franchise where Harper has spent the entirety of his career so far.

If Harper wants to win now, Philadelphia and Washington would appear to be the best options. William Hill lists the Phillies as a 16/1 pick to win the World Series in 2019, with the Nationals close behind at 18/1.

Cold Stove: Free Agent Market Remains Frigid

The fact that Harper remains unsigned continues a trend that has been the main storyline of the MLB offseason: the lack of interest in veteran free agents across the majors.

With less than two weeks remaining before spring training camps open, the consensus top two free agents on the market – Harper and Machado – remain unsigned, with a surprising lack of interest in the two 26-year-old superstars. According to a CBSSports.com panel of experts, six of the 20 top free agents have yet to find teams for 2019, including starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, reliever Craig Kimbrel, and third baseman Mike Moustakas.

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