File this one away in the “Take it for what it’s worth” category.
USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale says that there is a strong belief from those in and around league circles that the Philadelphia Phillies will ultimately sign six-time All-Star Bryce Harper this offseason:
It’s hard to find an executive, scout, or rival agent who doesn’t believe that Harper will eventually sign with the Phillies, maybe a month from now when he can drive from his Las Vegas home to Mandalay Bay and make the official announcement himself.
This comes on the heels of Chelsea Janes and Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post reporting Tuesday that Harper rejected a $300 million offer from the Washington Nationals, the team that he’s played his whole career with after they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. The deal did not include a no-trade clause, per the same report. Nightengale now says that the $300 million offer is no longer in play. It’s fair to wonder if the Nationals didn’t want to make their best offer off-the-bat, though Harper rejecting such a deal is a good indication that the Scott Boras client plans to sign with highest bidder this offseason, something Boras clients tend to do.
Without casting doubt on any of these reports, it’s important to remember how quickly things can change in free-agency, especially as we approach the Winter Meetings, which will begin on Dec. 9 in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas. A year ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs looked to be the favorites to sign Harper. Nightengale now says that the Dodgers aren’t interested in Harper, and the Cubs, ironically, seemed to put a dent in their chances to be able to afford Harper when they exercised Cole Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019 last week. But the Dodgers could have a change of heart. A team without many financial commitments, such as the Chicago White Sox, could choose to get involved and be aggressive. And the Nationals, of course, could up-the-ante. With just over a month until the MLB Winter Meetings, it doesn’t appear that a decision from Harper (or any major free-agent) is imminent. What’s the rush?
Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicted last week that Harper would sign a 14-year/$420 million contract. Even though Harper is still only 26, a 14-year deal with an average annual value of $30 million per season felt a bit excessive. It may not have been. Nightengale says that Harper is seeking a 13-year deal that tops the average annual value of $34.42 million that Zack Greinke currently has in his deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. For those of you without a math degree, $35 million per year over a 13-year period would be $455 million. He may not get that much – or at least not that many years – but it does seem that there’s been an effort from Harper’s camp to shift the overton window on just how much Harper could ultimately earn this offseason.
Harper’s contract season of 2018 was a mixed bag. He did start in a home All-Star Game at Nationals Park, but Harper hit just .214 in the first-half of the 2018 season. With that said, he also homered 23 times, drove in 54 runs and walked 78 times prior to the All-Star Break, so his first-half only disappointing by the high standards that he’s set for himself. Though the Nationals weren’t able to save their season after the All-Star Break, Harper played at an MVP caliber following the midsummer classic, slashing .300/.434/.538 with 11 home runs, 46 RBIs and 52 walks in the second-half of the 2018 season.
Part of the thought in signing Harper would be that you may be paying for his peak. Though it feels unlikely that he’ll have a better season than his 2015 National League MVP season – a season in which he hit .330 with 42 home runs and a staggering 9.3 fWAR – many of his best career years should still be in front of him. It’s not hard to see why Phillies managing partner John Middleton, along with general manager Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail, would be willing to issue a historic contract to Harper to play his home games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
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