When it was confirmed Bryce Harper agreed a 13 year, $334 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies overall, I wasn’t surprised by it (I had hoped he would have signed with the Giants or Dodgers, but seeing Washington vs. Philadelphia for a while will be very fun-and I still hate the Nationals for those who know me). I was a little taken aback when I saw the 13 year deal and the no opt-outs or fa full no-trade, but I have to applaud Bryce Harper (and his agent) for that because it shows that he is willing and is committed to the team.
Now a buddy of mine thinks I have a pure disdain for the guy. Nah. I think Bryce overall has always been that one where people will give him whatever he wants and/or nobody told him “no” much because he was a great athlete. However, I don’t have an issue with the guy speaking his mind (though I may not agree with what he says) and he is at least trying to attract fans to the game.
So getting off my high horse a bit here, in the Phillies case, I really like the Bryce Harper signing for them.
“But, that’s a lot of money and they failed to look at their history of loaded contracts such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, etc.” Yes, it is A LOT of money. But let’s be clear on something: the contracts Howard and Utley signed that really handcuffed Philadelphia was that both of them were north of 30 of the time and they gave another extension to Utley when the team should have been in full rebuild. Harper is 26 years old. Granted by the time the contract is over, he is probably going to suffer the same fate as the others and have the last couple of years of not being as productive. But this guy is about to be heading into his prime. IF you are gung-ho about advanced metrics then even last year’s season where he hit only .249 was still a successful year given his OPS was .889 and OPS+ was 133. Now had he bottomed out and only hit .200 (like most of the first half), then yeah, it was a poorly paid contract. But Harper is entering that “prime phase” for the career (I like to think it is from 26-33 years old, which by my logic, gives him 8 strong years to put up some amazing Hall of Fame numbers and then a few years after of being pretty solid).
“Well, money changes a person, he will be different in Philadelphia as opposed to Washington.” Yes, money changes people. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t know if Harper knows a different way. And while I remember when Jason Giambi went from rocking party animal in Oakland who spoke his mind to a clean-cut, clean shaven Yes Man in New York when he signed, it is a far different situation. The Phillies haven’t been in contention for a postseason berth in nearly 8 years in a division that has until now not been THAT competitive over that time (Nats-Braves, Nats-Mets has really been the divisional races and mostly it has been the Nats anyway). And when Giambi signed with the Yankees, they were still in that dynasty and the players “knew” what to do and Jeter ran things. And I also think Philadelphia is telling Harper “you better not change on us!” There really isn’t that “captain” in Philadelphia right now. So the Phillies can be Harper’s team starting on Day One.
“But what will happen if Harper gets into another big slump like he had in 2016 and 2018? Philadelphia fans are nowhere near as forgiving as Washington fans.” We all know Philly fans are a crew, but mostly that is with football. When I went and saw a Phillies game last year in Citizen’s Bank Park, they were incredibly supportive of the players, even the ones who were in slumps. Phillies fans are slightly different than Eagles fans though I know many will point to the JD Drew incident (which was because Drew DIDN’T want to play in Philadelphia), but Harper showed he wants to be in Philadelphia. Now, yes, this is one argument I do agree on that if he slumps, how will Harper handle the fans and media about it? The one thing I have about Harper that is a negative is he isn’t one to take criticism really well. So this is something to watch if or when Harper has a prolonged slump.
One of the biggest things why I think this was a great deal for the Phillies is that Harper keeps Philadelphia in contention in now what can be considered a VERY TOUGH NL East. The Nationals, even without Bryce, added more arm depth in the rotation. The Mets added Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz on the back end to close out games and brought back Jeurys Familia (which was a bit surprising) and you still have to figure their rotation with Syndergaard and deGrom is the most lethal combo right now in the Majors. The Braves youngsters took off last year and added Josh Donaldson. So the Phillies are going to be in a dogfight even with Harper and JT Realmuto in the lineup. And poor Miami.
The other thing of why I like this move is that Harper will be playing 81 games at Citizens Bank Park. It is a far more hitter friendly park than Nationals Park. So it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that Harper will put up 40 home runs per season for 8 straight seasons, assuming he remains healthy. Now of course, it may be slightly trickier as now it is no longer just having to face the likes of deGrom and Syndergaard, but now Scherzer and Corbin. And if you are to believe what is coming up through the Braves farm, those arms. But hey, he’s paid the big bucks to hit off of those guys, so the advantage of what he sees in Philadelphia will off-set those pitchers.
I also don’t see Bryce Harper being an outfielder for his entire career. I think at some point he will make the transition to first base. Nobody doubts of his arm. He has a cannon for an arm, but he is really an average outfielder at best. I can see down the road Harper going to first base, which I think will also help his longevity for production.
Lastly, I think the Harper signing tells the Phillies fans is that “look, the Phillies are ready to contend now and it is the perfect timing.” The NL East is going to be tooth and nails with the Braves, Mets, and Nationals. Philadelphia made prior moves to keep in contention, but hoping that Aaron Nola keeps on track of being that likely ace with Jake Arrieta being that veteran presence, puts them in the thick of things. Had the Phillies stood pat with Harper and let him go to Los Angeles or San Francisco, given how the NL East is, they would not be a massive factor in 2019. But now with Harper there and keeping the farm system in tact, it makes the Phillies a constant threat alongside at least the Braves and Nationals (and maybe the Marlins down the road). So while that money is a lot for the Phillies to give Harper, it is worth it, especially if he can carry a world championship right by the Liberty Bell.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat