Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies made history yesterday, as a record-setting contract brought the 26-year-old slugger to one of his former divisional foes. The deal, at 13 years, $330 million, is the largest contract in the history of the four major North American sports. It also includes no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause.
So, what does this deal tell us about Harper and the Phillies?
For Harper, it tells us he’s a lot smarter (and maybe a little less confident) than we might’ve thought. In addition to this deal, the San Francisco Giants offered the Las Vegas native a 12-year contract worth $310 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers also reached out twice, offering deals of three years $135 million and four years $168 million.
Accepting the Phillies’ offer makes it clear that Harper was more concerned with long-term security than shattering the current record for annual salary (held by Zack Greinke at nearly $34.5 million per year).
He had an opportunity to take a three-year deal from LA, earn $45 million per year, and test free agency again while still in his prime at 29-years-old. He’d also be joining a team that’s made consecutive World Series appearances. Then again, maybe he’s not as confident as he portrays.
In 2015, when Harper won the NL MVP award, he posted an astounding WAR (wins above replacement) of 10. In his six years of MLB experience outside of that, he’s posted a WAR of 17.4, or just 2.9 per year. To put that in perspective, Seattle Mariners outfielder Mallex Smith posted a WAR of 3.2 in 2018 while hitting two homeruns and 40 RBI. Those numbers aren’t exactly worth $330 million.
As great as the lineup in Philadelphia looks right now with the additions of Harper, JT Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura, to go with Rhys Hoskins, they still lack pitching. After their ace Aaron Nola, the decline is rather noticeable. Jake Arrieta signed a contract for three years and $75 million, then proceeded to have his worst year since 2013. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta have upside, but are extremely inconsistent, and the bullpen is anchored by a soon-to-be 34-year-old, David Robertson, who just posted his highest ERA as a member of the Yankees since 2010.
Ultimately, this is a bad deal for each side. The Phillies would’ve been better suited to sign Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, both of whom are still free agents, and lure in the Millville, New Jersey native, and former Phillies fan, Mike Trout, after the 2020 season.
Instead, the Phillies will be paying a 39-year-old $22 million in 2031. Harper, on the other hand, could’ve made $135 million in Los Angeles over the next three years, and likely at 29 could’ve signed a deal for (at least) $200 million over eight years.
Such a sequence of events would’ve made him richer at 37 than he will be at 39 and would’ve given him another chance to test free agency. But after this winter, maybe he doesn’t want to.