When Manny Machado secured an opt-out after the fifth year of his 10-year/$300 million contract with the San Diego Padres, you had a pretty good idea of where negotiations between the Philadelphia Phillies and Bryce Harper were headed. At the very least, Harper would want an opt-out after the fifth year of any deal. The more likely scenario? His agent Scott Boras would demand an opt-out even earlier than after the fifth year, giving his client a chance to re-enter what may be a more favorable free-agent market in a few seasons.
According to Angelo Cataldi of SportsRadio 94 WIP, Boras is insistent that the Phillies include an opt-out after the third season of any free-agent contract with Harper. That would allow him the chance to become a free-agent after the 2021 season. Harper, if he ultimately exercised said opt-out, would get the chance to test free-agency an offseason after Mike Trout and Mookie Betts can become free-agents, which could potentially set a new baseline for contracts issued to star outfielders. The MLB’s current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season as well, and while it’s hard to predict exactly what changes will be made to free-agency to avoid a work stoppage, one would think Harper would be entering a more favorable market if he opted out of his deal after year three than the one he’s encountered this offseason.
Is having to include an opt-out after the third year of what will likely be a 10-year deal ideal? No it is not. If Harper opted-out after year five or six, you could make the case that you got the best stretch of his career and he’s opting-out of the final few years of a contract that he ultimately won’t live up to as he ages. But if he opts-out after year three, he’ll still only be 29. If he puts up MVP caliber production in the first three seasons with the Phillies and the club consistently reaches the postseason, the Phillies will be left to either lose their star player at his peak or issue a contract that keeps him in red pinstripes until he’s close to age-40, a deal that almost certainly won’t age well.
But if the Phillies are ultimately left to decide between giving Harper an opt-out after the third year of a 10-year deal or not signing him at all, there doesn’t seem to be much of a decision. At the very least, you would secure the age-26 through age-28 seasons of a player on a Hall of Fame track. If you add Harper to a team that already includes Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Seranthony Dominguez, the Phillies could do quite a bit of damage over the next three seasons. Perhaps Harper would ultimately decide not to opt-out. Or maybe if he does, you could work out a new deal with him. But that’s three years from now, in the meantime you could get the three years of a generational talent on your team.
Do the Miami Heat regret signing LeBron James because he “only” spent four years there? No, because they may have gotten the four best seasons of one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. Harper, at least to this point, is not baseball’s equivalent of LeBron, but even in signing him to a deal with an opt-out after year three, you would get his services from age-26 through age-28. Ahead of the 2010-11 NBA season, the Heat signed LeBron to a five-year deal that included a player opt-out after year four and a player option for a sixth season. James ultimately opted out of the deal after the fourth season and returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But that didn’t come before he won two league MVPs, two NBA Finals and two NBA Finals MVPs. Harper, and just about any athlete, is unlikely to have a peak as dominant as LeBron’s. But it gives you an idea of what can be accomplished with an elite talent in the fold for just a few years.
None of this is to say that the Phillies shouldn’t try to sell Boras on an opt-out later on in the deal. It’s also not to say there isn’t a point where the Phillies should hold firm at; there’s not a market for Harper getting a deal longer than 10 years, so if Boras and Harper were to become insistent on an 11th year in a deal, that’s a place where you could dig your heels in. But if the expectation really is that Harper’s going to make his decision at some point this week, it would seem to be a mistake to let a third-year opt-out prevent you from signing the former National League MVP.
- Tuesday morning, Nolan Arenado agreed to an eight-year/$260 million extension with the Colorado Rockies. That extension, notably, includes a player opt-out after the third season. It takes next offseason’s top free-agent off of the board. If Harper leaves Washington, there’s a very real chance the Nationals will agree to an extension with their star third baseman, Anthony Rendon. It’s rare to have an offseason where even one star free-agent younger than 30 reaches free-agency, let alone two at age-26.
- Tommy Hunter, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, has a Grade 1 flexor strain. Salisbury says he’ll be shut down for two weeks and the Phillies will reassess. Luckily, the Phillies bullpen is deep in right-handed pitching options in their bullpen. Beyond Hunter, Dominguez, Pat Neshek, David Robertson and Hector Neris, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos were both reliable options for Gabe Kapler in 2018. The Phillies also acquired Juan Nicasio, who almost certainly will be on the Opening Day roster, in the Jean Segura trade.
- Also from the crowd that spends Spring Training worried about the Phillies having too much talent at a position, Odubel Herrera is dealing with a hamstring strain. Roman Quinn is healthy now, but has an injury history. If the Phillies sign Harper, it will be a nice problem to have to figure out how to proceed with their logjam of outfielders. If you don’t leave yourself with any depth behind your starters, one injury can force you into starting Cedric Hunter in the outfield on Opening Day.
- Here’s a fun nugget from the great Zoo With Roy: tickets in left field for the Phillies first game in D.C. in 2019 start around $43.20. Tickets in right field for the same game on April 2 start at $141.23. You have to wonder why that is…
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