After 117 days, the Philadelphia Phillies and mega-star free agent Bryce Harper finally agreed to a 13 year/$330 million deal on Thursday afternoon.
The Phillies are undoubtedly a better team today than they were in the 2018 season. But how might Harper’s presence affect how good the Phillies can be in the future?
With the additions of Harper and Andrew McCutchen in the outfield there will be an odd man out from the group consisting of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr. Add in Dylan Cozens, and you’re looking at two players who will not be making the trip up to Philadelphia to open the regular season on March 28.
The players in that group have differing values in a possible trade. Williams and Herrera have the most value to another team. The rest have little to nothing as far as trade value. The Phillies could ideally use another starting pitcher – preferably a lefty – and a trade during the season is probably the best route. It is very possible that the Phillies use either Williams or Herrera as part of a package to land a veteran left-handed starter at some point.
Dallas Keuchel is the best remaining notable free agent starting pitcher who fits the bill. Trade targets could include Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray and Mike Minor. A trade for Bumgarner would make a ton of sense, if he were healthy. MadBum brings valuable postseason experience, having pitched in and won three World Series.
I believe a move to a contender would rejuvenate Bumgarner’s career in a similar way as Justin Verlander was rejuvenated when he was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Houston Astros back in August of 2017. Ray is another intriguing target, he’s a lefty and is pitching for a rebuilding team. Ray had some injuries in 2018, but also had a 3.93 ERA in 24 starts. He finished the year incredibly strong, with a 2.20 ERA over his final six starts.
One of the reasons Harper didn’t want an opt-out in his contract was because he wants to build his brand in one place and recruit players to come play with him in Philadelphia. Harper’s contract will help the Phillies do that because he will make $26 million a year from 2020-2028 instead of somewhere near $35 million a year.
According to Baseball Reference, the Phillies payroll will be somewhere near $166 million in 2020. Free agents next season could include a plethora of pitchers; Bumgarner, Verlander, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Cole Hamels and Zack Wheeler. Stephen Strasburg has a player option, while both Chris Archer and Corey Kluber have team options. There will likely be a lot of pitching talent available next off-season for the Phillies to consider, and they should be able to afford at least one.
Hamels and Verlander would most likely be on one-year deals because of their age. The Phillies may be able to get them on the cheap and not have to be financially tied for multiple years.
Sale will be coveted by every team in baseball, he will be 31 when he becomes available and will demand a four-to-five year deal worth more than $20 million per season. Cole and his current team, the Houston Astros, may try to get an extension done before next off-season. I believe that Cole, who will be 29 heading into 2020, will want more than the six-year, $140 million contract that Patrick Corbin received from the Washington Nationals this winter. Outside of Hamels, who may take a discount to come back to Philly, these guys will not come cheap.
Now what about Mike Trout in 2021? The thought of Harper and Trout in the same outfield went from pipe dream to something at least within the realm of possibility rather quickly.
The Phillies projected payroll with Harper in 2021 is $186 million, that includes team options and projected arbitration costs. But the Phillies can knock that number down considerably if they make a few moves. First off, Jake Arrieta will have to go unless he wants to restructure his deal to stay on the team. Arrieta would make $20 million in both 2021 and 2022 if the Phillies picked up his option.
Obudel Herrera will have to be traded. He’s owed more than $10 million in 2021 and the Phillies would have a cheaper replacement ready by that time in either Adam Haseley or Micky Moniak.
Cesar Hernandez will likely be traded or released before that point. It will become increasingly unnecessary to pay both Hernandez and Scott Kingery, who is under team control until 2026.
They Phillies may also opt to try and trade Andrew McCutchen or get him to restructure his deal as well. McCutchen is owed $20 million for the 2021 season.
The above moves would slash the payroll down to roughly $100 million. If the Phillies did land a premier pitcher in the 2020 off season, the payroll will be near or above $120 million. Extensions for Realmuto, Hoskins and others would move the payroll closer to $150 million. With the luxury tax set at $206 million, that would leave Philadelphia almost $55 million to give Trout or Mookie Betts if either were to reach free agency.
If the Phillies were to miss on both Trout and Betts in 2021, there are even more targets in 2022. That’s three years away and a lot of these guys can get locked up before then, but the group includes Strasburg, Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Raisel Iglesias, Noah Syndergaard, Christian Yelich, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant and Corey Seager.
By then, Hoskins will be more expensive and Realmuto will be in the middle of a contract if he’s re-signed. But the Phillies can go cheap at other positions in order to add more stars. If the Phillies do in fact miss out on Mike Trout, it won’t be the end of Harper’s pursuit to get such stars to join him.
Harper and Bryant have been life-long friends. If the DH is in the National League by 2022, the Phillies would be able to have Bryant, Hoskins and top prospect Alec Bohm, who projects at first or third base, in the lineup together joining Harper, Jean Segura, and possibly Realmuto. That lineup makes missing on Trout feel a lot better.
Affects on the farm system
The Phillies have two promising outfield prospects in Haseley and Moniak. Both have the raw talent and tools to play center field. The club is probably hoping at this point that one of the two will develop to the point where they can start in center between Harper and possibly Trout. Both could start if they reach their potential and the Phillies can’t get Trout or Betts. There’s also a chance that Haseley and/or Moniak are involved in a trade over the next couple of years in order to get another piece.
Harper could have a Lebron type affect where the team trades young assets to get a proven star. Pitching prospects will also be mentioned in any trade deals to improve the club. Prospects such as Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero and Spencer Howard have a chance to be in the Phillies rotation in the next couple of years as the organization is forced to go younger and cheaper at the back-end of the rotation in order to pay new free agent additions and extend current players.
How Harper affects everything
Harper is going to recruit, that much is certain. His presence will be a big reason why Realmuto will likely want to re-sign and why Trout may opt to test the open market instead of getting an extension with the Los Angeles Angels. He may be the reason why a guy such as Cole or Sale wants to come to Philadelphia as well.
Harper has said that he wants to help out anyone with the Phillies. He is likely to be a positive influence on young hitters like Haseley, Moniak and Bohm.
Having Harper will damage the farm system. When you have a player of his stature and ability in his prime, along with other players in their primes such as Hoskins, Nola, Realmuto and Segura, you will want to add even more players in their prime instead of waiting for prospects to develop. That said, pitcher Luis Garcia could be untouchable unless we’re talking about trades for the likes of Trout or someone such as Tampa Bay Rays ace Blake Snell. And the Phillies are likely to move someone from the Bohm, Haseley, Moniak trio in a deal as well.
Harper makes the Phillies better this season and for years to come. If the front office continues to make moves over the coming years in an attempt to create a super team, that will have ripple effects on both current players on the roster and top prospects in the minor league system.