By Sam Bush
Okay, Phillies Nation, take a breath.
And mark where you were and what you were doing yesterday at 2:34 pm in Philly.
That was the time and date when the formerly bedraggled Phillies officially became a World Series contender.
It took a long time and a lot of money, but the Phillies finally landed Bryce Harper with a record contract.
The Phillies agreed Thursday to a $330 million, 13-year contract, the largest deal in baseball history.
Harper’s agent, California-based Scott Boras, said the deal was agreed to at 10:34 a.m. PST, subject to a successful physical.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and his players learned of the agreement from fans behind the dugout who saw media reports on their mobile devices during a spring training game in Clearwater, Florida.
“If the reports are true, it’s a huge moment for our baseball team,” Kapler said. “Certainly I think that the city of Philadelphia would embrace Bryce Harper. I think he would be very happy in this city because our fans care deeply about winning.”
A 26-year-old All-Star who had spent his entire big league career with the Washington Nationals, Harper topped the $325 million, 13-year agreement outfielder Giancarlo Stanton reached before the 2015 season with the Miami Marlins.
“Harp’s goal was he wanted the largest contract and he wanted his value,” Boras said. “He wanted the largest length he could get because he really wanted to stay in one city and one uniform, wanted to get a ballpark he hit well in, saw the ball well.”
Harper has a .279 career average with 184 homers and 521 RBIs, including a .268 average with 14 homers, 32 RBIs and a .930 OPS in 47 games at Citizens Bank Park. He likely would hit third or fourth, according to Kapler.
“We get a whole lot better on the field,” the manager said. “Bryce Harper is a sensational teammate.”
Harper’s agreement surpasses the previous high for a free agent, set last week when infielder Manny Machado signed a $300 million, 10-year deal with the San Diego Padres. Harper’s average annual value of $25.4 million ranks 14th in baseball history, well below the high of $34.1 million set by Arizona pitcher Zack Greinke as part of a $206.5 million, six-year contract that started in 2016.
Harper gets a $20 million signing bonus in equal installments this June 1 and Nov. 1, a $10 million salary this year, $26 million in each of the following nine seasons and $22 million in each of the last three years. None of the money is deferred, and he gets a full no-trade provision.
Philadelphia will forfeit its second-highest draft selection, currently No. 55, and $500,000 of its 2019-20 international signing bonus pool allotment. Because Washington paid luxury tax last season, its compensation pick will be after the fourth round, about 140th.
Following a slow offseason of negotiations that sparked outrage from the players’ association, three players in a 10-day span agreed to deals guaranteeing a total of $890 million. Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado, who would have been eligible for free agency next offseason, signed a $260 million, eight-year agreement this week.
“We want our best players to sign the biggest, longest contracts,” said Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun, the 2012 NL MVP. “Overall, it’s a good day for all baseball players to see him get properly compensated.”
Phillies owner John Middleton met with Harper in a Las Vegas hotel suite and at dinner around the time of the winter meetings in December and then again last weekend. Boras said Middleton’s wife, Leigh, and Harper’s wife, Kayla, were part of the gathering.
“Bryce just really enjoyed John’s passion for winning and the commitment he could make to the franchise,” Boras said.
Philly has been among the most active teams this offseason, adding outfielder Andrew McCutchen for $50 million over three years and reliever David Robertson for $23 million over two years, and acquiring catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura.
“We thought we were a complete team. Now, we’re even more of a complete team,” McCutchen said.
Philadelphia also gave ace Aaron Nola a $45 million, four-year deal.
“Pretty cool,” Nola said. “Glad to claim him and looking forward to him getting here.”
After leading their division in early August, the Phillies went 16-33 over the final 49 games of last season and at 80-82 finished with a losing record for the sixth straight season. Harper will return to his old home in the season’s second week, when the Phillies play at the NL East rival Nationals on April 2 and 3.
San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers had also pursued Harper in recent weeks, and the Giants offered $310 million over 12 years, a person familiar with the talks said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proposal was not publicly revealed. San Francisco’s plan would be less lucrative to Harper because of high California taxes.
Boras said shorter-term offers had average annual values as high as $42.5 million.
Boras was the agent for a record contract for the fourth time after pitcher Kevin Brown’s $105 million, seven-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers ahead of the 1999 season, Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million, 10-year agreement with Texas before the 2001 season and Rodriguez’s $275 million, 10-year contract with the New York Yankees before the 2008 season.
Harper has been an All-Star in six of seven big league seasons and was the unanimous winner of the 2015 NL MVP award.
An up-and-down defender and an unusual mix of popular and polarizing, Harper is known for the occasional contretemps with opponents, one particular exchange with a reporter about a “clown question,” and, most infamously, a dugout dustup in which he was choked by then-teammate Jonathan Papelbon during a game.
Washington took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft and called him up to the majors less than two years later at age 19. He would go on to become the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year for a Nationals club that won its first division title and made its postseason debut.
Harper was also an integral part of the team that added NL East titles in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and never finished lower than second place in his seven seasons. Another key stat, though: The Nationals never won a playoff series in that span.
His best year was 2015, when at age 22 he hit .330 with 42 homers, 99 RBIs, 118 runs and 124 walks, amassing an OPS of 1.109.
Last year, he hit 34 homers and produced a career-high 100 RBIs while walking 130 times, although his batting average dipped to .249. He started more than a third of his games in center field instead of his usual spot in right because of injuries to teammates.
With Washington’s Nationals Park hosting the 2018 All-Star Game, Harper stole the show the day before the Midsummer Classic by winning the Home Run Derby before an ecstatic crowd filled with folks wearing his No. 34 Nationals jersey. Harper wore a headband with the D.C. flag’s design, reflecting his oft-stated pride in playing for Washington.
But that eventually ran its course. The Nationals made an offer toward the end of last season — a $300 million, 10-year contract that included $100 million in deferred money that Harper would have not entirely received until he was 60. The offer no longer was on the table after free agency opened without an agreement.
A year after going 82-80 and missing the playoffs under rookie manager Dave Martinez, the Nationals will move forward without Harper.
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo would have loved to keep Harper in his team’s lineup but didn’t sit around and wait to find out whether that would happen. Instead, Rizzo spent money elsewhere, adding lefty starter Patrick Corbin on a $140 million deal and righty starter Anibal Sanchez, along with second baseman Brian Dozier, a pair of catchers in Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki and two key bullpen pieces in Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough.