Tweet nothings: After flirting with Cub fans, Bryce Harper goes to Philly in end
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MESA, Ariz. — The Bryce Harper news broke while the Cubs were playing their exhibition game Thursday. So even after right-hander Kyle Hendricks was done pitching his two innings and was meeting with the media, it was still news to him.
‘‘Did he sign today?’’ Hendricks asked.
Yes, he was told, but not with the Cubs.
‘‘Not the Cubs? OK, that’s all I need to know,’’ Hendricks said with a smile. ‘‘I’m still pitching against him.’’
Harper’s free-agency affair with the Cubs amounted to a long-distance bromance consisting of tweet nothings with pal Kris Bryant for the last two years. But once he actually became available, the Cubs couldn’t afford the wedding.
On Thursday, the Phillies finally got their man with a 13-year, $330 million deal that makes them the National League East favorites, establishes a record for contract value and ties Giancarlo Stanton’s record for contract length (at $325 million).
‘‘Wow,’’ Hendricks said.
For the Cubs, the signing means a trail of broken hearts in the fan base and just one more road hazard to navigate in a stout NL field.
Harper, 26, joins former Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta on a Phillies team that improved by 14 games in 2018 (80-82) before adding reliever David Robertson and four current or former All-Stars to their lineup (Harper, catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Andrew McCutchen).
‘‘Him and Jake — I love it, man,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘That’s going to be a fun lineup to face, for sure. We want to face the best competition. I’m just glad some of these free agents are starting to come off the board. There are a lot more guys still left to go. That’s the important part for us. Hopefully, the competition level stays high.’’
Players knew the ship had sailed on the Cubs having any shot at Harper soon after last season ended.
‘‘We don’t need big changes in the clubhouse,’’ catcher Willson Contreras said, echoing sentiments from around the clubhouse.
‘‘We added Cole Hamels last year and we kept him, so that’s obviously huge,’’ left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. ‘‘And we’re adding a healthy Yu Darvish and hopefully a healthy Brandon Morrow and a full season — hopefully healthy — of Kris Bryant. What was our record last year?’’
If the Cubs could win 95 games with all the injuries and adversity they faced last season, then who needs Harper, right?
Except for those six All-Star selections, that 2015 NL Most Valuable Player award and that Schwarber-esque playoff series he had against the Giants in 2014.
Not to mention, as Bryant said recently: ‘‘If I was an owner or president or GM, I would love to have Bryce Harper or Manny Machado [who recently signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres] on my team.’’
Never mind if you were a fan.
Hendricks dismissed the idea of any disappointment among the Cubs that Harper ultimately went elsewhere.
‘‘We’re so confident in the group we have that that’s what we’re focused on,’’ he said.