To many the most valued player in this winter’s free-agent class, to others the most valued player in the history of free agency, Harper on Thursday concluded his extended offseason by agreeing to a $330-million, 13-year contract with the Phillies, according to sources. The deal includes no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause, according to sources.
Harper, the 26-year-old former MVP, is the masterstroke in a Phillies offseason in which the club sought to finish a rebuilding effort. The club has endured seven consecutive non-winning seasons. With money to spend and a strong belief in their younger core, the Phillies traded for catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura, signed veteran reliever David Robertson and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and also entertained signing free agent shortstop Manny Machado. They might still seek to add another free agent, perhaps pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who, like Harper, is a client of agent Scott Boras.
Nearing the end of February and two weeks after spring camps opened, Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a second meeting with Harper and his representatives. The first was in early January.
The Phillies won 80 games in 2018, which saw them in first place in mid-August, then collapse over the final six weeks. They lost 20 of 28 games in September. In mid-November, team owner John Middleton told reporters, “We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” In mid-January, they met in Las Vegas with Harper and his wife, Kayla.
Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325-million contract extension with the Miami Marlins in November 2014, days after he turned 25 and a year before he’d reach free agency. It was the largest guarantee for a baseball player. Three years later, the cash-strapped Marlins traded Stanton to the New York Yankees and might still be on the hook for $30 million.
Before Machado, the highest free-agent contract was Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275-million deal with the New York Yankees prior to the 2008 season, and before that Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers (when Rodriguez was 25). Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels, 2012) and Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners, 2014) are playing on 10-year, $240-million contracts.
In the months leading to his decision, Harper reportedly rejected an in-season extension offer from the Washington Nationals for $300 million over 10 years. And in the months of his free agency, he’d drawn extreme or peripheral interest from the Chicago White Sox, Phillies, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Nationals. Twice in December he met with Nationals owner Ted Lerner at Lerner’s home in Palm Springs, California, according to sources. Harper met with other clubs in Las Vegas, his hometown, including the Phillies. By the end, around the time Machado signed with the Padres for $300 million over 10 years, the bidding appeared to have centered on the Phillies, Dodgers and Giants.
Harper turned 26 in October. While the industry appears to have become hesitant to commit to mega-deals that extend into the back ends of players’ careers, Harper may well remain in his prime – or close enough to his prime – for the duration of the contract. That, along with an MVP season in 2015 (when he led the National League in home runs, on-base percentage and slugging), six All-Star appearances in seven seasons, two seasons in which he batted at least .319, an at-bats-per-home-run mark (17.97) that stands 11th among active players and an ability to play three outfield positions, made him, along with 26-year-old Manny Machado, the most sought-after free agent in many years.
Harper, the prodigy, skipped his final two years of high school in order to hasten his development and arrive sooner in the amateur draft. After a season in junior college, he was chosen first overall by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 draft. He was a big leaguer by 19 and an All-Star not three months later.
Harper was a star before he took his first major league at-bat. His play generally supported the assumption. As a result, he has procured endorsement deals with New Era, Gatorade, Under Armour and Blind Barber, among others. He is on the cover of the 2019 video game, MLB: The Show.
Of his seven seasons, however, one has been MVP worthy, a second drew enough votes to finish 12th in the balloting, and in other seasons injuries or lack of production have produced a mixed lot. In 2016, as a 23-year-old, and the year after his MVP award, Harper batted .243 and hit 24 home runs. In 2018, he was batting .215 in late July before rallying with one of the better second halves in baseball. After winning the Home Run Derby at Nationals Park, he finished batting .249 with 34 home runs and a league-leading 130 walks. His career .388 on-base percentage is sixth among active players, behind Joey Votto, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer.
While often put in the same category as Trout – Trout a year older, Trout debuted nine months earlier, both entering their primes – Trout has been far more consistent. Trout has two years remaining – at $33.25 million per – in a six-year, $144.5-million extension he signed with the Los Angeles Angels before the 2014 season.
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