Image via The Washington Post/Getty Images
The city of brotherly love got a little more to love with the addition of 26-year-old outfielder, Bryce Harper. Harper signed with the Phillies for an honest day’s work of $330 million for 13 years. Jon Heyman of FanCred was first to report the agreement and Jeff Passan of ESPN reporting the $330 million. This tops Giancarlo Stanton’s contract that he inked with the Marlins for 13 years, $325 million. The biggest difference in the MVPs respective contracts? Harper’s contains no opt-out clauses. Most of the recent big free agent signings have had massive contracts, that include an option for players to opt-out in a number of years. Stanton can opt-out in 2020, and Machado can opt-out in 2023. Harper appears to be strapped into the Phillies clubhouse for the foreseeable future with aim at a dynasty in Philadelphia.
The Art of the Deal
Was this a great or terrible deal by Harper? The Phillies? Time reveals all. Let’s break this down for both parties. For Harper, he has a contract for the next 13 years whether he gets hurt and loses some of that “stuff” that makes him a well-desired outfielder, and he doesn’t have to worry about contract/financial speculation until he’s 38 and well into thinking of retirement for most baseball players. For the Phillies, if injury were to plague Harper or Harper to under-perform, it would almost certainly unleash the people of Philly chomping at the bit for some sort of turn around. Although incredibly unlikely, Harper’s bust contract could be the next Bobby Bonilla of Major League Baseball at a much more catastrophic scale. If Harper’s resurges into his 2015-MVP-self, for the at least the next half of his contract, it could be the beginning of another Dynasty in the Northeast if the Phillies hold the pieces in place around him to maintain success. The Phillies would be championed without having to worry about losing the MVP-caliber player until retirement age, and Harper would reap the benefits of leading a team to the playoffs on a consistent basis for a decade.
Bearded Liberty Bell Savior or Salary Cinderblock?
Having the largest free agent contract in major team sports is a huge tag and brings a lot of attention to your game, whether that is good or bad, is yet to be seen. For all of the history nerds, the Liberty Bell was purchased in 1752 for what amounts to over $23,000 in today’s USD. That means Bryce Harper will earn about 1,100 Liberty Bells, PER YEAR, FOR THE NEXT 13 YEARS. That’s like if the Phillies gave Bryce Harper 3 brand new Liberty Bells a day until he’s 29 without missing a beat.
For all of that cash, the city of Philadelphia is going to expect results, and fast. Is Harper going to be the Bearded Liberty Bell Savior or he will turn into a salary cinderblock that could turn into the next Bobby Bonilla salary dump of the Phillies? With the aggressive offseason approach that the Phillies have had, they will battle with the young and talented Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown.
The Phillies started the offseason in December by signing veteran Andrew McCutchen to 3 year contract and trading the Seattle Mariners for Jean Segura. In February, Philadelphia traded for arguably the best young catcher in baseball in J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins and, now, the signing of the 2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper. Adding these pieces to a solid pitching staff featuring a newly extended Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, and Nick Pivetta, the Phillies aim to bring the heat to the Braves and the rest of the National League this season.
Harper has had an impact on the teams he has played for since his debut in 2012 with the Washington Nationals, taking the sub-0.500, 2011 team to the NL East crown losing his first playoffs series 2-3 to the St. Louis Cardinals. The 6-time All-Star has only reached the playoffs in 4 of his 7 sevens, and has lost all of those series. Harper averages .211 at the dish, with an OBP of 0.315, and a Slugging percentage of 0.487. These numbers don’t stack up to his career averages of 0.279 BA, 0.388 OBP, and 0.512 SLG. In order for Harper to turn his and the Phillies postseason hopes around, everyone will have to perform, come the chill of October baseball. Will the legacy Harper leaves in Philly title him the Leader of the Liberty Dynasty, or the largest free agent bust in the recent history of professional sports? Only time will tell.