When thinking of the biggest free agent signings in Phillies franchise history, names such as Pete Rose, Jim Thome and Cliff Lee quickly come to mind. We now have a fresh, new name to add to that list of superstars who have chosen to join the team after establishing their career elsewhere.
Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper has agreed to terms with the Phillies on a 13-year, $330 million contract. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the deal has a full no-trade clause and will include zero opt-outs. This will be the largest contract in Phillies history, topping the six-year, $144 million extension signed by Cole Hamels back in July of 2012.
In addition, this will also be one of the largest deals in MLB history. The deal certainly fulfills principle owner John Middleton‘s prediction that the club could spend “stupid money” this off-season.
Thus ends a prolonged saga that has been at the forefront of Phillies Nation chatter ever since the 2018 season ended. The process began with Harper reportedly declining a 10-year, $300 million extension from his former team, the Washington Nationals, as the season drew to a close.
The Phillies were always at the top of the list when it came to suitors for the outfielder, if only because they had more money to spend than any other club. But there were a few reports which doubted that Harper would ever actually come to the City of Brotherly Love.
The day after Christmas, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote the following: “…neither player (Harper or Machado) particularly likes Philadelphia and both would have preferred the Yankees, who have shown little interest in Harper.”
The clear turning point in the Harper chase apparently came when Phillies brass, including Middleton, general manager Matt Klentak, president Andy MacPhail and manager Gabe Kapler, met with Harper, his wife Kayla and agent Scott Boras in Las Vegas on January 12th. That meeting went so well that the Phillies began to be listed as the front-runners for Harper by many, including USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale.
Having played against the Phillies for the National League East-rival Nationals since breaking into the big-leagues back in 2012, the former National League MVP will instantly become the biggest and best of a group of new stars to join the Phillies over the winter. The six-time All-Star has a career .279/.388/.512 slash line with 184 home runs, 521 RBI, 922 hits and 75 stolen bases, as well as a 27.4 bWAR mark.
Last season, Harper slashed .249/.393/.496 with 34 homers, 103 runs and 13 stolen bases, and registered an .889 OPS mark. He also set career-highs in RBI and walks with 100 and 130, respectively. Harper did struggle some a year ago. In addition to his low batting average, he also registered a bWAR of just 1.3, his lowest since the 2014 season, and struck out a career-high 169 times.
It is clear that Harper is a solid fit for the Phillies. The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Scott Lauber mentioned his plate approach as something that would benefit the entire lineup:
“Kapler admires hitters who see pitches and work the count. Harper saw a career-high 4.14 pitches per plate appearance last season and has a .388 career on-base percentage, sixth among active players with at least 1,000 at-bats.“
In 50 games at Citizens Bank Park, Harper has a career batting average of .268 with 14 home runs and 32 RBIs. Lauber explained that Harper’s 14 home runs in Philadelphia are tied for the most by any active visiting player. Harper also has a .930 OPS at his new home ballpark.
Harper will become the Phillies new long-term right fielder, with fellow new free agent signee Andrew McCutchen playing over in left field. That leaves incumbents Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and Aaron Altherr battling for time in center field and as reserves.
The signing of Harper could now lead to a trade of one of those other outfielders. The Phillies are believed to still be looking for starting pitching, and could package one of them with a young pitcher to obtain a more veteran arm to bolster their rotation. Of course, increased outfield depth is never a bad thing either.
The #Phillies, according to team executives, have visions of signing Harper,
Keuchel and Kimbrel.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 15, 2019
Kimbrel and Keuchel remain unsigned, with their markets apparently in a bit of a lull. The Phillies could now perhaps see an opportunity to strike again. Keuchel would appear to especially fit their needs. Bringing aboard either or both would only add to what is already an unprecedented off-season for the club.
Regardless of any further moves, it is undeniable that the signing of Harper signifies that the Phillies are legitimate contenders for the foreseeable future. In order to break the now seven-year playoff drought, a bold move had to be made. While there are plenty of risks, Harper is a generational talent. The hope is that he will now begin to add postseason success to his regular season accolades.
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