By Sam Bush

The MLB meetings that start tomorrow in Las Vegas marks the unofficial start of the Bryce Harper Bake-Off, and it appears his present team, the Washington Nationals, has given up on hopes of re-signing the free agent.

Which is great news for the Phillies, whose Nation has it heart set on attracting the power-hitting outfielder to Citizens Bank Park.

Managing principal owner Mark Lerner’s latest public comments about the team’s offer to its homegrown superstar were in an interview with 106.7 The Fan yesterday:

Friday afternoon. And in it, he said the following:

“I don’t really expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on.”

The 10-year, $300 million dollar offer the team made to Harper at the end of the season was “the best we can do,” Lerner said, adding that club officials told Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, as much.

“We said, ‘If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we’ll see whether we can finish it up,'” Lerner said. “But we just couldn’t afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that.”

Many wondered if the Nationals’ deal with Corbin – six years, $140 million – would preclude the Nationals from continuing to pursue Harper. General manager Mike Rizzo said the two issues “are independent of each other.” Lerner, though, signaled that the moves the team has already made “might very well” preclude signing Harper, even if he decides he wants to take their previous offer.

“We’ll have to sit down and figure it out,” Lerner told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier. “If he comes back [to the offer], it’s a strong possibility that we won’t be able to make it work. But I really don’t expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on. There’s just too much money out there that he’d be leaving on the table. That’s just not Mr. Boras’s M.O., to leave money on the table.”

“This was a special six years. And he’ll still be iconic in the city, when he comes in playing for another team. We’ll do right by him and have a real ceremony,” Lerner said. “You can’t be mad at him, and I don’t think he’d be mad at us if we can’t go any further.”