It took until the end of February but Bryce Harper finally has a team. He has reached an agreement with Philadelphia Phillies. Jon Heyman says the deal is for $330 million. The length of the contract is pretty incredible too: 13 years. There are no opt-outs and there is no deferred money either. We may learn more later about how the money is structured, but he’s set to average $25.38 million a year or so.
The match was a long in the making. When the offseason began the Nationals were reported to have made Harper a $300 million offer to return, the White Sox expressed considerable interest and the Phillies — openly crowing about their plan to spend “stupid money” — were thought the most likely landing spots for Harper.
But then the offseason wore on and things seemed to change. The Nationals’ offer was revealed to have involved deferred money, making the deal worth less than they wanted the world to believe. The White Sox’ talk proved to be just that. In the end there was no evidence that they were prepared to offer anything close to what other teams were offering Harper or, for that matter, offering Manny Machado, for whom they were also an alleged suitor. In fact, they ended up making no offer to Harper at all. The Phillies remained, month by dragging month, the putative favorite but, for some reason, no progress seemed to be made. People began to openly speculate whether or not he wanted to go to Philly or whether they planned to truly spend stupid money.
Just before Christmas the Dodgers traded away Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, creating an opening on the depth chart and on the payroll for Harper. Then last weekend it was reported that Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman made the trip from Camelback Ranch to Las Vegas to meet with Harper and his agent, Scott Boras. The Giants, meanwhile, had been engaging Harper for weeks, but were thought to only be offering short term money. But then, just yesterday, we learned that the Giants were offering ten years. Certain members of the Philly media contingent and fan base openly wondered whether Harper had any interest in Philly at all or, rather, if he were just using them to try to leverage an offer from one of the west coast teams.
Now we know. Philly waited Harper out, Harper waited Philly out and now the balance of power in the National League East has shifted dramatically.
Harper, 26, batted just .249 last year but thanks to his excellent secondary skills — i.e., his ability to hit for power and his willingness to take walks — he wound up with an OPS of .889. (133 OPS+). His second half was substantially better. Focusing on his plate discipline helped him greatly, leading to a line of .300/.434/.538 after the break. Overall he hit 34 homers on the year, drove in 100 and led the league with 133 walks. His hitting coach, Kevin Long, believes Harper was trying too hard to swing for the fences in the first half and that he adjusted at the break. That would definitely account for his overall better numbers with a marked increase in gap power, even if it came at the expense of some dingers.
Regardless of his 2018 splits, there is no debating that, when he is healthy and when he is on his game, Harper is one of the most electrifying players in the game. His phenomenal 2015 MVP season and excellent 2017 seasons showed that. The Phillies are betting that what they’ve seen of Harper’s best is what they’re going to see most of all now that he’s wearing their uniform. They are also no doubt looking at his .930 career OPS in Citizens Bank Park.
Will they be right? Hard to say, but teams have certainly taken bigger gambles in free agency before. Harper is a supreme talent just entering what should be his prime. And now he’s the newest member of the Philadelphia Phillies.