Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

Phillies Nuggets: On a three-year opt-out for Bryce Harper



Bryce Harper is a six-time National League All-Star. (Cathy T./Wikimedia Commons)

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.

The Nuggets

  • 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…

MORE FROM PHILLIES NATION

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  2. Phillies Nuggets: On Bryce Harper, $400 Million And Sticking To Valuations 
  3. Already The League’s Best Catcher, J.T. Realmuto Stands To Get Even Better In 2019
  4. Phillies Could Be Left To Decide Between Aaron Altherr And Nick Williams When Dust Clears
  5. Phillies Nation Mailbag: Who Is The Most Underrated Phillie In Last 15 Years? 

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Lefty

    February 26, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    I LOVE the idea of a player opt out after 3 years on a ten year deal. I’d give him that in a heartbeat. I hate long term deals anyway, so take the potential of the three best years he will likely have. Then let him walk and get paid MORE by someone else for his declining years. And since it’s likely the Giants and Dodgers are offering higher AAV’s for shorter deals, we get him for the lower 10 year price, but only pay 3? Heck yeah, sign me up for that!

    • Barry Onyx

      February 27, 2019 at 8:34 am

      Yeah, I don’t see what the big deal is. The only reason we’re giving him ten is because that’s what it’ll take to get him to sign. But even if years 1 through 5 of the contract are MVP caliber, you can be pretty sure 6 through 10 will be less than that. If we can get 3 great years and let him walk after that, I’m ok with that. Whoever signs him next will be paying big for the bad years. And of course he’s not going to accept a 5 year opt out, what would be the point? Opt out when he’s 31? Who will pay him big money at 31? Do you think these people have never heard of Albert Pujols?

      Maybe we can get him to agree to a year 7 buy out team option in exchange for a year 3 opt out.

  2. Betasigmadeltashag

    February 26, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    I think it is a no brained. If he wants to opt out after 3 years let him. If they maintain developing young talent and are a playoff team 2 of the 3 other FA would want to be here. Plus you go get Trout and it won’t matter. Saying all of that I don’t think they need Harper to be competitive.

  3. czontixhldr

    February 27, 2019 at 12:27 am

    Tim, I agree with everything you wrote except calling Bryce Harper a generational talent.

    Generational talents don’t have bWARs under 2.0 in 3 of the last 5 years, or fWARs under 3.6 in 3 of the last 5 years.

    Is Matt Carpenter a generational talent? He’s not very far behind Harper on this list: https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2018&month=0&season1=2012&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=21,d

    How about Freddy Freeman. So what’s the cutoff?

    Harper is a very good player and I would like to have him on the Phillies, but not at any cost. And I would hardly call him a generational talent.

    • schmenkman

      February 27, 2019 at 8:52 am

      I wouldn’t call Harper a generational talent yet, though he has shown the potential.

      As for that comparison, Freeman is 3 years older and was 22-28 over that period. Carpenter is 7 years older and was 26-32. Harper was 19-25, and arguably has entered his prime yet.

      I don’t think it’s “apples to apples” to compare Harper to players who had entered their prime or were mostly in it.

      • schmenkman

        February 27, 2019 at 9:35 am

        Regardless, players like him are few and far between in free agency, and I’d be fine spending big to get him ($330-350 mil range say). There will still be money left over for Trout should he ever become available.

      • czontixhldr

        February 28, 2019 at 12:17 am

        Aggregate age comparisons aside, you did not address my points about his performance in individual years.

        Generational talents are consistent – just look at the consistency of Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Kaline, and other “generational” talents up to age 25.

        Sure, Harper had one phenomenal year, but he’s been as much hype as performance the last 5 seasons.

        • schmenkman

          February 28, 2019 at 11:12 am

          Whether we call him a “generational talent” is not that interesting a question to me, and I’m willing to concede that.

          I’d still pay him 10/370, because I think “gen. talent” or not, he’ll be worth it.

  4. Craig Glessner

    February 27, 2019 at 8:59 am

    I agree Harper is not a generational player, he is good but I don’t really want him if he doesn’t want to be here. Better ways to spend$300 or probably $400 million. Save that moolah and go fishing for Trout.

  5. Jeff Orbach

    February 27, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Being that this has taken so long I would try for 4. But I think we’ll do ok either way. If he goes for a short term deal with LA or SF and plays like he did last year, He’ll be looking at a minor league deal in 3-4 years. In the end it is up to where he wants to play.In any case we’ll be fine.

  6. Ken

    February 27, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    If the Phillies cave on the 3 year opt out, why wouldn’t Boras just ask for something else?

    • schmenkman

      February 28, 2019 at 11:15 am

      He can ask for anything he can imagine. Just because the Phillies say no after a certain point, their offer may well still be good enough (or better by enough) that they would get him anyway.

  7. Ken Bland

    February 28, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    There oughta be a law that requires passing an iq test before having the freedom to express an opinion (present company excluded, of course, in case I’d fail the exam).

    But a case in point….

    I’m beyond entertained by the lines of people that are jumping for joy at giving Harper a 3 year out like its a definitive answer to getting out of his declining years.

    Whoa is me.

    The cat will be 29 at that time. Twenty freaking nine. Frank Robinson would roll over in his recently occupied grave if he read that considering what he did when he was said to be an old 30. And as if Robbie would be the only non steroids dude to have shined on past 30, ever heard the belief that a player’s prime is said to be 28- 32? My calculator tells me 32 is well past 29.

    The other entertaining thing about this give away the 3 year out like its grounds for a parade is that don’t nobody seem to think it’s a negotiating tool and the Phils, or whoever should maybe ask for something else in return for the concession. Like maybe a mutual option in case the signing club’s not too thrilled with the first 3 years of the deal.

    Contrary to the way this thing SEEMS to have gone to date, it IS a give AND take process despite it seeming like its all Boras all the time.

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