After nearly four long months of negotiations and speculation, Bryce Harper has found a new home. A home where he will spend the next thirteen years of his life, in fact.
For Phillies fans, it was well worth the wait. The Philadelphia Phillies outbid the Dodgers, Giants, White Sox, and Nationals for the services of superstar Bryce Harper, arguably the most recognizable name in the sport. The exact number? 13 years and $330M. He’ll be able to buy a hell of a lot of cheesesteaks from Tony Luke’s with that kind of cash. It is the largest money guarantee in the history of Major League Baseball. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that the deal does not include an opt-out clause. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal followed up that report, saying that the deal includes a full no-trade clause. So, Harper is locked into Philadelphia from his age 26 season to age 38 season.
What did he turn down though?
We already know that the White Sox dropped out of the race after they missed out on third baseman Manny Machado. Harper turned down an extension with the Nationals worth 10 years/$300M back in September, but MLBTradeRumors reports that much of that salary was deferred, making it a far less attractive deal for Harper.
Jon Morosi tweets that the Dodgers offered a four year deal worth a whopping $45M per year, which would have shattered the record for annual salary. It would have allowed him to hit free agency again at age 30. I believe that Harper turned that down in order to attain the largest total guarantee. The Giants were also in until the end, as Alex Pavlovic and Bob Nightengale both tweet that San Francisco offered Harper a 12 year/$310M deal. However, the deal would not have been worth all that much after exorbitant California state taxes.
It also doesn’t help that the Giants are, well, not good. The way the roster is put together, they simply are not close to contending whatsoever. Look at that roster: The lifeless husk of Evan Longoria. Pablo Sandoval is still a thing? Joe Panik has fallen off the face of the earth. Brandon Crawford was good. Their outfield is made up of Steven Duggar, Drew Ferguson, Martin Jennings, Austin Slater, and Mac Williamson. I made up one of those names and you didn’t even know the difference. That’s my point. It’s not like reinforcements are coming, either. Their farm system is barren. The higher AAV was simply not worth it for Harper to likely not go near the playoffs anytime soon.
What makes this deal different from, say, Albert Pujols’ 10 year/$240M contract or Robinson Cano’s contract of the same value? The answer is the age at which Harper signed his mega-deal. You see, Cano signed his deal at 31, Pujols at 32. Pujols, once the best player in the sport, has seen his body break down and abilities diminish. The Angels are regretfully still paying him for another three years. Cano has performed solidly (he’s been worth 17.8 Wins Above Replacement over the first four years of the deal) but the Mariners dealt him to the Mets in an attempt to get out from under that crippling contract.
Here, Philadelphia has acquired the ultra valuable age 26-31 seasons. These years are generally considered a player’s prime. All too often, free agents sign large contracts as they are exiting their prime, and teams grow to regret it. The Phillies get Harper in his prime (as do the Padres with Machado) and are then committed to the remaining seven years. It would be reasonable to assume that he can keep producing up until age 34 or 35, and they’ll only have to deal with a decline for three or four years after that. That is the ideal situation for the team, of course.
There is a lot to be said about Harper’s value as a player. He has deficiencies in the field. He doesn’t consistently hit for a high average. Perhaps his 2015 MVP season was an anomaly. This isn’t about that. He is the biggest name in the sport, and he’s going to be paid like it regardless of whether or not he has earned that. The Phillies see him as the guy to build their team around, and he is the prime acquisition in an off-season where the Phillies have gone all in: They were able to dump Carlos Santana for Jean Segura, opening up first base for Rhys Hoskins while Segura slots in at shortstop. They signed the still productive Andrew McCutchen to play left field. They traded for All-Star catcher JT Realmuto. They signed reliever David Robertson. Now add Harper, and they’re still considering Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel, but only on a short-term deal according to Todd Zolecki. This is a team that is primed to win ASAP. This, as well as the guaranteed money, made Philadelphia the most attractive landing spot.
The Phillies offered a much more interesting opportunity. GM Matt Klentak has built a team that is primed to win within the next few years. They believe that Bryce Harper is the final piece to that puzzle. We’ll see if that comes to fruition. From an outside perspective, things look good for the franchise for the first time in years. The NL East will certainly be tough this year; the Mets are vastly improved, the Nationals bolstered their rotation, there is no reason to assume that the Braves will regress, and now the Phillies have made the most noise in all of baseball this offseason. We’re looking at an exciting 2019 Season, especially in the City of Brotherly Love.
By: Chris Perkowski