PHILADELPHIA, PA –Former Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper, arguably the most prized possession of the MLB off-season, has agreed to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies in a 13-year, $330 million deal — the largest in baseball history. Multiple media outlets confirmed the news, which was first reported by MLB Network. Harper’s powerful bat adds a catalyst to a revamped lineup and could be the final piece on a World Series contending roster.
Harper’s deal includes a no-trade clause, league sources told ESPN. There are also no opt-outs in the deal. Beat reporter Jeff Passan reported that it’s clear Harper is “committed to being a Philadelphia Phillie for the rest of his career.” The deal takes him through 2031.
There are no deferrals involved, either, according to fellow beat reporter Jon Heyman. Harper will recieve a $20 million signing bonus, a $10 million salary in 2019, $26 million for the next nine years, and $22 million in the final three years, The Associated Press reported.
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Harper, just 26, has been among the game’s most exciting players since he burst onto the professional scene as a teenager. His arrival on the free agent scene this winter, along with fellow young phenom Manny Machado, has been the subject of rampant rumors throughout the industry for years. His signing, so late in the offseason that spring training is well underway, brings to a conclusion one of the most tumultuous and tense offseasons in recent memory.
The consensus expectation was that Harper’s contract would outstrip the previous free agent record held by Machado, who signed with the Padres for 10 years and $300 million on Feb. 19. Giancarlo Stanton previously held the record for largest contract by dollars at 13 years, $325 million. That contract was an extension, and not a free agent contract, however. Harper’s deal exceeds both in total dollars.
The Phillies had been the favorites to land Harper all winter, but were challenged recently by the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Some speculated Harper might prefer the West Coast, but the feeling all along has been that no one would offer as much money as the Phillies.
Harper’s acquisition is the fifth, and by far the largest, move the Phillies have made this offseason, in addition to All Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, All Star shortstop Jean Segura, former MVP Andrew McCutchen, and elite reliever David Robertson.
Harper will slot into right field — an overhauled Phillies outfield that will look quite a bit different than last year. Newly acquired Andrew McCutchen will see most of the reps in left field, while center field will probably be manned chiefly by Odubel Herrera.
The speedy but oft-injured Roman Quinn could see reps over Herrera, and can also serve as a substitute in left and right. It likely leaves other strong outfield options like Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr out of a spot on the 25-man roster, and very likely trade candidates.
The Phillies have been prominently connected to nearly every big name in this winter’s star-studded, historic free agent class, of which Harper and Machado stand at the top. Philly was long considered to prefer Machado — his defense at third base is elite, and he has connections with the Phillies front office of Matt Klentak and Andy McPhail from his old team in Baltimore — but Harper seemed to emerge as the favorite after Phillies brass flew to his home in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.
The organization reportedly came away from that meeting very impressed with Harper and his wife. Harper and Phils manager Gabe Kapler also hit it off, apparently.
In his seven-year career thus far with the rival Washington Nationals, Harper has made six All Star teams, won Rookie of the Year in 2012, MVP in 2015, and slugged 184 home runs, and batted. 279 with a .900 OPS and a .393 on base percentage. His numbers at this early stage in his career put him on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.
During a relative down year in 2018, Harper was the 17th best hitter in the league, according to the weighted-runs created plus metric, created by sabremetrics gurus. Harper’s 135 wRC+ put him just ahead of slugger Kris Davis and tied with Astros All-Star Jose Altuve.
The statistic, which aims to adjust a hitter’s performance to account for hitters parks, essentially says Harper created 35 percent more runs than a league average hitter would, given the same number of plate appearances.
Harper has a career wRC+ of 143, including a whopping 197 in 2015 when he won the National League MVP. For comparison, the best player on the planet, Angels superstar Mike Trout, has a career wRC+ of 172, while new San Diego Padre Machado has put up a 120.
Speaking of hitter’s parks, Citizens Bank Park is one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball, and Harper’s home run numbers will almost assuredly skyrocket.
But for all his regular season success, and the regular season success of the Washington Nationals during his time there, Harper’s postseason performance has been much more tempered. In 19 postseason games with the Nationals, Harper hit just .211 with five home runs and 10 RBI. Six of his 16 hits were singles and he struck out 23 times in those games. Harper and the Nationals, despite routinely winning 90-plus games and multiple division titles, have never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs.
Despite the mutual interest, weeks passed from that initial meeting between the Phillies and Harper, with spring training starting, and even Machado ultimately signing. But if anything the Machado signing gave Harper’s agent Scott Boras a mark to shoot for, a mark which the Phillies were ultimately willing to meet.
With reporting from Patch national staffer Dan Hampton
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