Bryce Harper is a Philadelphia Phillie.
During the entire baseball offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies were expected to sign one – or possibly BOTH – of the top two free agents available, infielder Manny Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper. Phillies majority owner John Middleton was quoted as saying the team would spend money this offseason, and “maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.”
Fair or not, that add-on statement was twisted into the phrase “stupid money” and it raised the expectations among the media and fan base for the team to put that stupid money where its mouth was.
As the free-agent market dragged on into February, there was speculation that the prices for Machado and Harper might be dropping to the point where maybe the Phillies could possibly sign both players.
But then, out of nowhere, it was reported on February 19 that Machado agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres. Based on media reports and other speculation, this was about $20 million more than the other offers out there for him. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak received a call from Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, before Machado accepted the Padres’ offer to see if the Phillies would match. By that point, the Phillies apparently made enough progress on the Harper front that they declined the opportunity. Thus, Machado signed with the Padres.
That left just one of the big free agents on which the Phillies could spend their “stupid money.” And this fact also allowed Harper’s super agent, Scott Boras, to re-engage some teams that had fallen back in the race for Harper.
Middleton and his wife, Leigh, flew out to Harper’s home in Las Vegas and to have dinner with Bryce and his wife, Kayla, on Friday, February 22. The objective was to show the couple that the Phillies were about family. The couple were supposed to return the following morning, but extended their stay into the afternoon.
But that still wasn’t enough to get a deal done. Officials from the Los Angeles Dodgers visited the Harpers the following night. A couple of days later, a contingent from the San Francisco Giants came calling. The Phillies, who had been viewed as the only team willing to offer the long-term deal Harper was looking for, were suddenly fading in the race for Harper.
As this was happening, the Colorado Rockies signed star third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260-million extension. This took Arenado off the free-agent market for next season, which now gave Boras more ammunition to get more money for his client. With Arenado off the market after the upcoming season, would the Dodgers and Giants adjust their level of commitment to Harper?
For the Giants, the answer was “yes.” Reports emerged they were now willing to go to at least 10 years. Meanwhile, the Dodgers offered a reported four-year deal for about a little under $45 million per season.
On the morning of Thursday, February 28, media buzz depicted the Phillies’ chances of signing Harper as remote. Other reports suggested they no longer had the best offer on the table.
But then at 2:50 p.m. ET, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted this:
Breaking: Bryce to the Phillies
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 28, 2019
“Bryce to the Phillies.”
After 118 days, the Bryce Harper Free Agency Saga had finally come to an end. And it ended with him as a Philadelphia Phillie.
Soon, the contract details came out: $330 million for 13 years, with no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. Not only was Harper coming to the Phillies, but he was committing to the team for what is likely the remainder of his career.
While the $330 million broke the record for total contract value set by the $325 million extension Giancarlo Stanton signed with the Miami Marlins in November 2014, it meant that the annual average value (AAV) of the contract was only $25.4 million. This is a remarkably team-friendly AAV for such a monster contract, and Boras revealed that this was by design.
“He wanted to go to one city, stay there, build a brand and identity and recruit players,” Boras said. “He wants to tell players: come play with me. He knows it will help winning more if he’s with one team the whole time.”
Basically, Harper wants to be the LeBron James of Major League Baseball. He wants to bring the best players to Philly and build a winner around him, and his contract gives the team the flexibility to do just that.
For instance, the best player in baseball, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who grew up in nearby Millville in southern New Jersey, potentially becomes a free agent after the 2020 season. Could the Phillies reel in the biggest fish (excuse the pun) of the free agent pool two years from now? The opportunity may be there.
Of course, the Angels will try to sign Trout to an extension. He is the face of the franchise and team owner Arte Moreno is one of the richest owners in baseball. Trout even reaching free agency is far from a slam dunk.
However, the morning after Harper signed with the Phillies, Trout said some things to the media that appeared to signal his impending free agency may be more likely than most believe.
Mike Trout said he does not want to negotiate an extension during spring training or the regular season over the next two seasons before his contract expires. That means that, if the Angels were to extend him before he hits free agency, that would come next offseason.
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) March 1, 2019
Fabian Ardaya, who covers the Dodgers and Angels for The Athletic, tweeted that Trout said he would not negotiate an extension with the Angels during spring training or the regular season over the next two years before his contract expires. This would leave only the next offseason for the Angels and Trout to discuss an extension (and possibly a few weeks between the end of the 2020 regular season and when free agency starts after the World Series is over, assuming the Angels don’t make an unexpected deep postseason run next year). Now, that’s about four months, but it’s a period of time where vacations and holidays really condense that to closer to three months. That is a very limited window.
Personally, I had been strongly in the camp of people who expects Trout to sign an extension to remain with the Angels beyond 2020. But these comments have me leaning considerably more toward the “he’s going to walk” camp.
Regardless of Trout’s availability via free agency after the 2020 season, the Phillies are stacked now and – thanks to Harper’s team-friendly contract AAV – have the flexibility to add top-flight free agents and lock up current stars like recently acquired catcher J.T. Realmuto or first baseman Rhys Hoskins to remain a power for many years to come.
Harper wants to win, and wants the Phillies to win a lot during the next 13 years.
I, for one, am there for it.