When Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in 2019, he specifically did not want any opt-outs in his deal. If he wanted one, he could have easily gotten one. Harper reportedly received at least two offers in free agency with opt-outs, but he prioritized certainty above all else. He wanted to play for one team for the rest of his career.
“At the beginning of the process, I told [Scott Boras] I didn’t want one wherever I went,” Harper said in his introductory press conference in 2019 when asked about opt-outs. “I wanted to be able to dig my roots somewhere. That was through the good, through the bad, through the ups and downs of a team, of an organization. It’s going to be tough for 13 years to win every single year and I totally understand that.”
Three years later, Harper has yet to make the postseason with the Phillies. It’s not for a lack of effort on his part. Through three seasons with the Phillies, Harper has 83 home runs, 231 RBIs and a .281/.402/.555 slash line. He has the fourth highest OPS+ in baseball (152) since 2019 among hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances. 2022 will be his age 29 season.
Every team that was in the mix for Harper has had considerably more success than the Phillies. The Washington Nationals, his former team, won the World Series in 2019. The Chicago White Sox, a team that intrigued Harper, won the AL Central this season. The Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that came in last minute with a short-term, high AAV offer, won the World Series last season and made the postseason in each of the last nine seasons. The San Francisco Giants, the team that finished second to the Phillies in the Harper sweepstakes, won 107 games this season. Even Cleveland, Oakland and Houston, teams that were interested in trading for Harper at the 2018 trade deadline, have all been to the playoffs at least once in the last three years.
Despite that, Harper is not shying away from his initial commitment to Philadelphia.
“I’m going to come in and play my game every year to the best of my ability,” Harper said after Sunday’s game. “I can’t really sit here and say I’m not going to do that. I want to stick it out. I want to play here. I want to be here. I said at the beginning that I want to go through the good and the bad.”
Going forward, the Phillies have to do everything they can to maximize Harper’s prime production. Last offseason, the focus was on re-signing J.T. Realmuto and filling numerous holes through free agency. This year, the Phillies will surely spend some money in free agency, but there’s a greater need for more impact talent to come through the farm system.
“We just can’t keep going out and buying and buying and buying. We need homegrown talent,” Harper said. “When you look at teams that have homegrown talent, those are the teams that have success. I think as a whole, we need our minor leagues to be better. We need our guys to come up from the minor leagues and have success and be successful and not have to go up and down.”
Harper specifically mentioned Bryson Stott and Alec Bohm as guys that need to step up. Stott, the team’s top position player prospect, is likely to make it to the big leagues in 2022 and could be a regular in the infield. The Phillies are still holding out hope that Bohm is the answer at third base. No matter what, they will need his bat in the lineup.
Maybe guys like Matt Vierling and Bailey Falter, two players who didn’t receive much attention in the Phillies top prospect rankings prior to this season, could play a role in 2021. A bounce back year from Bohm could be exactly what the Phillies need.
It’s not that the Phillies are incapable of producing talent from their farm system. Bohm was the success story in 2020. Ranger Suárez was arguably one of the best pitchers in MLB in 2021. Going forward, he’s a No. 4 starter at the very least and could be a top-of-the-line arm.
“I think it will line up if certain guys step up, right?” Harper said. “There’s certain guys that need to step up and you understand that when those guys come, they need to be good for us. I thought [Matt] Vierling did an incredible job coming up. I think that puts him in a place to possibly play next year. [Stott] possibly sticking somewhere, wherever that may be. [Bohm] as well, sticking him wherever that may be as well. If these guys step up and they do their job, then I think we’re going to be OK. We’re going to be right where we need to be with being able to add what we kind of need to add, if that happens.”
Harper went on to acknowledge that the minor league system is behind. More contributions from the minor leagues in year four of his deal, along with much better production from free agent signings, could go a long way in ensuring that Harper could spend the rest of his prime years playing meaningful baseball in October.
“We all want to end that drought,” Harper said. “Coming into next year, we just need to figure out who we’re going to be. What our identity as a team is going to be. I know [Dombrowski] wants to win. I know we have the right guy leading us up top to make that happen.”
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