July 20, 2019

Examining Bryce Harper’s Free-Agent Contract With the Philadelphia Phillies

February 28, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

A major source of lingering drama in Major League Baseball has been resolved with the news that star free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper has agreed to a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. With Spring Training already in full swing, the announcement sets the sport on its ear, as a major domino has fallen and changed the power dynamic among anticipated 2019 contenders.

As much as nearly a third of a billion dollars can be considered disappointing, one could argue that being the case for this contract—purely from a hype perspective. In the months and even years leading up to Harper’s free agency, numbers like $400 million, $500 million and $40 million a year had been speculatively tossed around. They may have actually come to fruition if not for the inconsistency the 26-year-old Harper has shown during his seven year career.

A LeBronian type prospect since before he could legally drive, Harper has varied from maddeningly inconsistent to breath taking. He has already missed 40 or more games in a season due to injury three times; seen his yearly WAR jump wildly (5.2, 3.7, 1.1. 10.0, 1.5, 4.7 and 1.3- in chronological order); and won the 2015 National League MVP Award at 22 with a commanding performance. When he has been at his best he has been a generational type of talent, and when he hasn’t he has been merely good.

The contract with the Phillies is an interesting study in compromise. He has been given a straight no-trade clause, but also has no player opt-out options during the entirety of the deal. The $25+ million he will earn annually pales in comparison to other recent deals like stars Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado. On the other hand, the $330 million he will make over the life of his contract is the largest contractual amount in the history of professional sports, let alone baseball, and includes no deferred payments.

Overall, it seems like a solid deal for both sides. Harper is a tantalizing talent who is still young enough that thinking he still has another gear or two that have not yet been tapped is entirely possible. The Phillies, for their part, have landed their star after being strongly connected to him and Machado, who they missed out on, throughout the off season. They had already built a solid roster of good young homegrown talent and veterans that included a number of other signings this winter. There is more than enough of a base in place that Harper doesn’t need to assume the entire weight of expectations on his shoulders.

The Phillies were already considered strong contenders in the National League East this season. Obviously, their latest addition will only increase their chances. Harper and his career 162-game averages of .279 with 32 home runs, 91 RBIs and a .388 OBP will go along way toward striking the fear into opponents.

The Phillies are on the hook for a lot of money. However, this seems like it could be the rare deal that’s relatively equal for both sides. While it will take Harper to near his 40thbirthday, the possibility exists that he could greatly outperform its annual average value earlier on, so his salary in his older and presumably declining years would be more of a reasonable trade off.

Now that Harper has landed all that’s needed is to have the Phillies’ new shiny toy don his uniform and take the field. The possibilities of what will happen next are many and varied. Regardless if you’re a fan of the player or the team, it will certainly be interesting to see if this marriage results in championships and a defined legacy that ends at the Baseball Hall of Fame or if they fail to meet their full potential.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew or on Facebook.

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