A 13-Year Commitment to Harper is a High Risk the Phillies Had to Take

Bryce Harper signing with the Philadelphia Phillies days after damn near every blue check reporter stated that Harper was unsure about or not willing to sign with the Phillies is not the most surprising thing about this deal. Rather, it’s the 13-year commitment—including ZERO opt-outs and a full no-trade clause—that Harper decided to make to Philadelphia.

Harper’s 13-year, $330 million contract is only the second 13-year contract in baseball history (Giancarlo Stanton). Just to give context on how long a 13-year commitment is, consider the fact that Harper’s contract is longer or as long as:

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency
  • Hall of Fame LHP Sandy Koufax‘s career
  • The average NFL career (approximately 3 years) multiplied by 4
  • The Thunder’s current tenure in Oklahoma City

It is only more surprising that, in an offseason where every single free agent is raving for the most average annual value (AAV), Harper will only make a little bit more AAV than Stanton. But according to his agent Scott Boras, this is what Harper wanted all along: a long-term commitment until the end of his career for whatever team he signed with this offseason and a team where he could recruit star players to compete for a championship, all at a home ballpark where he could rake. Teams like the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers (the teams that we can assume Harper wanted to sign with) were not willing to go to those levels to get him; the only other team that did (the Giants) play their home games in a left-handed hitter’s worst nightmare.

Image: Bryce  Harper
(Photo via Alex Brandon / AP)

The Phillies benefit from a smaller AAV throughout the deal, keeping financial stability for a potential run at Mike Trout or Mookie Betts in two years. However, the deal has many risks that cannot be ignored. Mainly, the Phillies are putting themselves in a situation where a similar fallout between Stanton and the Marlins can take place.

If Harper never comes close to his 2015 form or if he gets a career-altering injury in the third year of the deal, the Phillies are stuck with his contract for the next 13 years. On the flip side, if the Phillies, for whatever reason, do not contend over the next few years, Harper could use his no-trade clause and refuse to leave Philadelphia, similar to the situation between Joey Votto and the Reds. If Harper decides that he wants to leave Philadelphia, he has the full right to dictate where he wants to go and potentially force Phillies’ management to take a salary dump deal. Combine all of those risks with his sudden horrific defense in right field last season and guaranteed drop-off risk after the age of 36 and this is one of the riskiest deals in Major League history.

Yet, it’s a risk the Phillies had to take.

The Phillies (and if we’re being really honest, all the sports teams in Philadelphia) have been in a rebuilding stage for the last six years, dating back to a second consecutive disappointing season in 2013. For the duration of their rebuild, the Phillies were a last place team in the NL East, including earning the number one overall pick in 2016 (Spoiler alert: that has not worked out so well either). After an 80-82 season which saw the Phillies contend for a postseason spot until an 8-20 September, the Phillies knew their rebuild was coming to an end.

Up until they signed Harper, their offseason was one of, if not the best in baseball. They signed Andrew McCutchen, who, while a shell of his MVP self, still can get on base at a high clip, and David Robertson, who is still a great closer at this stage of his career. In addition, they were able to acquire Jean Segura (and James Pazos) from the Mariners and J.T. Realmuto, the best catcher in baseball right now. These additions alone made the Phillies contenders for the NL East alongside the Braves, Nationals, and Mets.

But the Phillies were missing something: a face. The 76ers have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Eagles have Carson Wentz (and a Super Bowl ring), and the Flyers have Claude Giroux (and Gritty). Meanwhile, the face of the Phillies was one of Rhys Hoskins, a power hitter who played awful defense in left, or Odubel Herrera, a slightly above average hitter at best. Additionally, owner John Middleton had promised to spend “stupid money” this offseason. With the list of free agent options were running out—Patrick Corbin had long signed with the Nationals and Manny Machado signed with the Padres—the pressure was on to make a big signing. Hence the reasons why they needed to add Harper.

File:Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons.jpg
Bryce Harper joins Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, among others, as the face of Philadelphia sports (Photo via Keith Allison/Flickr)

Bryce Harper is the current face of baseball, ahead of Aaron Judge. Even the most casual of baseball fans recognize him and his accomplishments. Adding him to the Phillies (or any ballclub) not only makes an immediate impact on a team’s contending hopes but it brings fans back to a ballpark that ranked 25th and 18th over the last two years in average attendance, respectively. Suddenly, with Harper becoming Major League Baseball’s LeBron James, the Phillies become a very attractable team for other potential free agents for the next 13 years.

Because of that, the Phillies could live with a potential subpar career (according to Harper standards), injury scare, or aging curve.

“I wanna be part of this organization, I don’t wanna go anywhere else. I wanna be part of this family, this Philly nation. Through the bumps, the bruises, the good the bad, I wanna be here.”

Bryce Harper at his introductory press conference

The minute the Harper signing was announced, people assumed that the Phillies would regret it because of its longevity. At the end of the contract, the team front office might be in a situation where they look back at this signing and think “What did we (or previous management) do that for?”

If you look closer, the move to sign Harper was one that the Phillies desperately needed to make. While the other teams in Philadelphia thrive, the Phillies were stuck with a dying fanbase despite a decent rebound season. While the team may have had the best offseason in baseball, they desperately needed a cherry on top, that one franchise-altering guy with a great media presence that becomes the instant face of the franchise. They could have waited a couple of years for hometown hero Mike Trout (and they still might), but they needed to make the move now while the team is ready to make a deep run in the postseason.

Bryce Harper was their guy. They got him. Now the Phillies have become World Series contenders for years to come.

Featured Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr

Follow Payton Ellison on Twitter (@realpmelli14) and check out his podcast.

Payton Ellison

Payton Malloy Ellison is a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in journalism. He has been writing his entire life, and about sports in various genres and settings for five years, starting with monthly coverage for the NBA and Major League Baseball on Grrindtime. He has been the Managing Editor for Diamond Digest for two years, written and edited articles produced live content and assisted in growing the brand for four years. He has also served as the sports director for the New Paltz campus radio station, WFNP The Edge, and had provided play-by-play and color commentary for SUNY New Paltz basketball.

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