For 117 days, the baseball world has gone through one of the most dramatic free agency processes of all time. That would be known as “Harper’s Bazaar”, according to agent Scott Boras, which finally ended with Bryce Harper signing a historic 13 year $330 million contract to join the Philadelphia Phillies. This contract breaks the record for the largest free agent contract in MLB history and will run through 2031: Harper’s age 39 season. Though the overall magnitude of the contract is historic, this is not a shocker. Philadelphia was the favorites for Harper all offseason and was always was going to have the highest bid, despite late efforts by the Giants and Dodgers. There are mixed feelings about this contract, though the Philly faithful seems to love it. One thing is for certain however, the Phillies are ready to roll, especially after an offseason in which they made an enormous amount of additions. How will this contract turn out? Let’s discuss.
There’s no denying that right now, Harper is one of the top players in the sport. At just 26-years-old, he already has a career 30.7 WAR, according to Fangraphs, with a career 140 weighted runs created plus (wrc+), and a career OPS of .900. Despite many believing he had a down year offensively because they still rely on outdated stats such as batting average (Harper’s AVG was just .249), Harper was actually solid with a .893 OPS and a .393 on-base percentage. Yet, it seems as though Harper’s numbers should have been even higher. He greatly increased his hard contact rate to 42.3%, walked at an incredible 18.7% rate, and had a career-low 11.8% soft contact rate. While his .289 BABIP isn’t incredibly low, it’s still low, and it was clear while watching Harper this past season that he suffered from a lot of rough luck. Obviously, Harper’s offensive numbers should only continue to get better now playing at Philadelphia’s hitter-friendly ballpark, where he was a career OPS of .930. Defensively, Harper declined significantly with negative 16 defensive runs saved in right field this past season, but a couple of factors could play in his favor. For starters, his numbers defensively may have taken a hit by him playing conservative just a year away from free agency, and Citizens Bank Park is a smaller ballpark. Harper’s always been a solid fielder by the metrics, so it’s very possible that this season was an aberration for him defensively. I’ve calculated his worth based on projected stats (.942 OPS, 4.4 WAR) to be around $32 million, meaning that at least for this next season, Harper will provide around $6 million in value. Obviously, the back-end of this contract could hurt once Harper reaches age 35, so it’s important that Philadelphia receives as much value now as possible. As of now though, Harper should be the favorite to win the NL MVP, and in order to receive a superstar of this magnitude, the Phillies had to pay up.
Thanks to a historic offseason, the Phillies now shape up as one of the best teams in the NL. Now with Harper, Philadelphia has one of the best lineups in baseball:
Andrew McCutchen LF
Bryce Harper RF
JT Realmuto C
Rhys Hoskins 1B
Jean Segura SS
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Odubel Herrera CF
Maikel Franco 3B
Philadephia’s projected one through five spots in the order rank up with any team in the MLB, that’s how much upside is projected. Meanwhile, Herrera and Franco have shown flashes in the past, and if they realize their potential, this lineup will be downright scary. This offense may have been enough to make a deep playoff run, but Philadelphia also has a promising rotation:
Nola is coming off a season in which he ranked third in NL CY Young voting, while Arrieta remains a very solid veteran contributor. Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Piveta looks ready to break out after posting a 3.80 FIP last season and could take over as the Phillies’ #2 starter by the end of the season. To cap it all off, Eflin and Velasquez are other young pitchers with excellent stuff, whose breakouts could be what puts the Phillies over the hump. All five of these pitchers had success last season despite playing for the league’s worst defense, so with an improved defense, they all should take the next step this coming season. We haven’t even gotten to arguably the most impressive part of Philadelphia’s roster; their bullpen is stacked. Seranthony Dominguez just put together a very impressive rookie season, while offseason additions David Robertson and Jose Alvarez will also be heavily utilized this coming season. Plus, with more financial wiggle room, this may not be the last move made. The Phillies have a plan to build a World Series champion, and it was all centered around Harper.
Long term, Philadelphia looks just as pretty. Harper (26), Realmuto (27), and Hoskins (25) can make up the Phillies’ middle of the order for years to come, while Nola (25), Pivetta (26), Eflin (24), and Velasquez (26) round out what should be a very solid rotation in the future as well. Still, there’s one more splash to be made, with a player whose the final piece their puzzle. That player is Mike Trout, who is a free agent in two years, and would seem to have an interest in joining his hometown Phillies. Trout will certainly break Zach Greinke’s record for the highest AAV ($34.5M) when he’s on the open market, and already has a 64.3 career WAR through seven seasons. To give Trout the historic contract he deserves, the Phillies needs as much financial space as possible, space that may have not been available had they given Harper the $35 million per year it seemed it would have taken to sign him. Instead, Philadelphia got creative and was able to lower the AAV to around $25.4 million by extending the contract to 13 years. They may be getting criticized for doing so, but when they are able to sign Trout while continuing to extend their young core, it’s safe to say they won’t be regretting finding a way to lower Harper’s AAV.
As silly of a reasoning as it may sound, the Phillies had no choice by to do everything in their power to sign Harper, especially after owner John Middleton claimed earlier this offseason that they’d spend a lot of money, and maybe even be a “little stupid” about it. It’s been a painful rebuilding phase for Philadelphia, and even though they don’t want to admit it, that rebuild did not produce the number of quality players needed to build a contender. Therefore, they needed to look to the free agent market to find their franchise superstar, and signing a 26-year-old with the amount of upside Harper has is quite the opposite of stupid. In fact, it’s giving back to their fans for enduring the suffering of losing, and now with Harper, the fans will be given the winning effort they have been waiting for.
The Phillies had to pay an extraordinary price, but at the end of the day, they got their man. Bryce Harper is the superstar that the Phillies needed on and off the field, the type of player that their fans have been waiting for. Winning baseball is back in Philadelphia, and thanks to this tremendous offseason, the Phillies have set themselves to contend in the short-term and in the long-term. This is all part of a huge plan by the front office, and it’s safe to say that this creative and massive contract is just the beginning.