For Philadelphia, the price for Bryce Harper was right.
Not because he’s a showcase of power and style, or because the number — $330 million over 13 years — was palatable at checkout, but rather because the biggest cliff hanger remaining in the offseason ended with the most obvious and most sensible scenario.
Phillies owner John Middleton making good on his promise to be a little “stupid” with his money, signing Harper to the richest contract in the history of American team sports, was like nailing the last disk on Plinko after coming up with lesser values the first four tries.
MORE: 10 questions about Bryce Harper’s mega-deal with Phillies
The Phillies have had a decent offseason, even good to some extent: trading for Jean Segura was a solid move, potentially pushing Scott Kingery back to second base; bringing Andrew McCutchen back to the state of Pennsylvania was wise, given McCutchen’s under-the-radar production over the last three seasons; the J.T. Realmuto trade helps solidify their catching situation, a revolving door since Carlos Ruiz was traded in 2016.
The actual retail price of Harper might be more than Philadelphia originally thought, but Harper will be worth it. Not only will he be worth it, but he was an absolute necessity for Philadelphia. Just consider some of the Phillies’ offensive ranks at the end of the 2018 regular season:
- 14th in the National League in average
- 10th in the National League in on-base percentage
- 10th in the National League in OPS
- 11th in the National League in runs.
- Of four everyday lefty players — Carlos Santa, Nick Williams, Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera — three posted an OPS+ sub-100 in 2018. Santana was the only one who did (104 OPS+), and he was traded back to Cleveland this past offseason.
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Now, consider some of Harper’s stats:
- 130 walks in 2018 ranked best in the NL, .900 career OPS
- Averages over 100 runs per 162 games
- Has 87 home runs in past three seasons, ranking sixth in the NL over that span, and second among outfielders (Charlie Blackmon was first with 96 dingers)
- Widely considered one of the best lefty power bats in baseball
For a few seasons now, the Phillies were billed as the next-best thing in the NL, and 2018 showed that destiny coming to fruition. But despite being in the NL East race for most of the season, they finished below .500 (80-82) and scuffled down the stretch (13-14 in August, 8-20 in September). A lot of that can be attributed to their young core in a playoff race for the first time, eventually succumbing to the rigors of an 162-game season.
To that end, everyone who’s ready to make an impact for Philadelphia are with the big-league club now. There will be little help by way of reinforcements making their way from Triple-A this season. The Realmuto acquisition sapped the last bit of oomph that the Phillies had in the farm system, trading off pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez to Miami for the backstop. As always, prospects are suspects until they prove otherwise, so it’s not inherently a bad thing for the Phillies. It really just underscores that whatever talent is at the major-league level is who the Phillies are going to play — and win — with.
PROJECTING THE PADRES
Manny Machado, top prospects give San Diego major potential
Some may draw comparisons to the Padres locking down Manny Machado. But unlike San Diego’s shock signing of Machado, Philadelphia signing Harper was out of necessity.
The Padres have 10 prospects in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 compared to the Phillies’ one: third base prospect Alec Bohm. The Padres’ core group of guys expected to make an impact within the next two seasons; the Phillies’ top guys are all major leaguers now.
San Diego isn’t expected to compete while those guys figure things out. Philadelphia is talking championships.
This isn’t to diminish what the Phillies have done. They boast a lot of good, young talent currently on the roster: Rhys Hoskins, a young slugger who hit 52 home runs over his first 203 games; Odubel Herrera, who was the first building block in what might be the next Phillies window of contention; Scott Kingery, who the Phillies feel so strongly about, they already gave him an extension that buys out a few years of free agency — in four more seasons.
MORE: Harper, Machado and the biggest contracts in sports history
This also isn’t to say Philadelphia isn’t without its issues. They could certainly benefit from bullpen help to go along with David Robertson (Craig Kimbrel, Line 1) and starting pitching help to reinforce the rotation after Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. Some guy named Keuchel is still available (would Philly fans take issue with a player named Dallas? I digress).
Signing Harper to a deal worth $25 million annually could actually work as a steal, even if the years and lack of an opt out from either side gives you pause. Consider that David Price, Zach Greinke, Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado all are making more than Harper is annually. In fact, Harper ranks 13th on the list of highest paid players per year.
Is it a big projection? Yes. Is 13 years a long time? Exorbitant, especially in baseball years.
Ultimately, the money may have been stupid (stupid good, really), but Philadelphia’s decision to sign Harper won’t be.
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