After months and months of waiting and anticipation, the inevitable has happened. Yes, finally, after months of speculation, cryptic tweets, and seemingly new rumors every single day, Bryce Harper is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. The 26-year old who has known no other team but Washington in his six-year career, is now moving to a fierce division rival up I-95 in the Phillies. On Thursday afternoon, it was reported that Philadelphia had signed Bryce Harper to a whopping contract of 13 years and $330 million, without any opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. In this piece, I’ll offer my dissection of the monster deal Bryce just signed and what it means for the Nationals for the future.
Bryce Harper, by signing this contract with the Phillies, became the highest-paid player in the history of American sports, getting $5 million more than Giancarlo Stanton did when he signed his extension with the Miami Marlins in the 2014 offseason. As mentioned before, he will be a Philadelphia Phillie for the next 13 years at a $25 million dollar AAV, or average annual value. In my personal opinion, for the Phillies financially, this is a terrible contract to offer. In thirteen years, Bryce Harper will be 39 years old. I will be 27 years old, and when Bryce Harper made his debut for the Nationals in 2012, I was just 7. 13 years ago, Bryce Harper was 13 years old. Could this contract end up being a waste of John Middleton’s “stupid money”, where he acquires a player who has suffered from inconsistency and rocky patches in the duration of his career? Could this end up becoming another albatross, Bobby Bonilla style contract where the Phillies pay Bryce Harper to underperform in his late thirties? Look at players today like Felix Hernandez and Jordan Zimmermann, who make upwards of $20 million per year to be their respective teams’ #3 starters. The Phillies also have upcoming contracts to give to important players like J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and are almost certainly going to make a run for Mike Trout, a southern New Jersey native and an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan. Is giving north of $300 million a good investment when you have these contracts to potentially sign in the next few years? Also, the Phillies don’t have a deep prospect pool, having only two prospects on the top 100 list, even though they had the first overall selection just a few years prior. Is making a “win now” move worth it when your aging players will have weaker replacements? These questions would obviously be best answered by Phillies owner John Middleton or GM Matt Klentak, but I personally believe that it’s too much of a boom-bust contract without any way out for the team. If this gamble doesn’t work out, the Phillies are in an awful situation, paying Bryce Harper almost $25 million with the inability to trade him or have an opt-out option exercised.
But secondly, and most importantly for folks this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, where does this
leave the Nationals? Many fans, including myself, had picked up the notion that Bryce Harper was leaving and came to view it as inevitable. However, once it becomes real, there’s a sense of sentimentality that comes with the signing. Really? The Philadelphia Phillies? The team whose fans used to flock and flood Nationals Park before you came around, leading to our ballpark earning the moniker “Citizens Bank Park South”? The team whose best pitcher beaned you in the back during your rookie season in an attempt to get you to “show some class”? The fans, who on the dawn of your signing with the team you will don the colors of for the next thirteen years, were making promises to spit in his face the first time he visited Citizens Bank Park as a member of the Giants or Dodgers? That’s a clown move, bro. But while Bryce is getting booed in his brand new home ballpark for the next thirteen years, the Nationals still have a formidable team going into the new season. This will allow Victor Robles to have a starting position in center field to start the season. He will join 20-year old Juan Soto and Adam Eaton in the outfield, which is an exceptional outfield, especially after the loss of a perennial all-star. A Nationals lineup without Bryce Harper will probably look like this-
1- Trea Turner (SS)
2- Juan Soto (LF)
3- Anthony Rendon (3B)
4- Yan Gomes (C)
5- Victor Robles (CF)
6- Brian Dozier (2B)
7- Adam Eaton (RF)
8- Ryan Zimmerman (1B)
9- Pitcher (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, or Joe Ross/Erick Fedde)
Although it is still strange to imagine a Harper-less Nationals team, the team Mike Rizzo was able to create this offseason is pretty impressive. They were able to get Yan Gomes, Brian Dozier, and reliever Kyle Barraclough for very cheap. Some MLB insiders say that the Nationals could also go after Craig Kimbrel, who remains a free agent. That would allow the Nationals to have a bullpen with Kimbrel and Barraclough acting alongside Trevor Rosenthal, Sean Doolittle, and Koda Glover. Imagine going from the last few years of having the bullpen be a liability to the best in baseball in just one year. Nevertheless, although the Phillies and Braves remain threats in the division, the Nationals are incredibly well-rounded and have set up shop as a team which is poised to win its’ first title without its’ former franchise face this year.
The Harper signing sucks. It will be bizarre to see Bryce Harper in a jersey other than a Nationals one, especially a Phillies jersey. It will be bizarre to hear the PA announcer at Nationals Park announce Bryce Harper’s name without the enthusiasm we’ve heard him announce it with for the past 6 years. Everything will take some getting used to. But Bryce Harper is now a Philadelphia Phillie, and the world will keep spinning. In Washington, we will not boo you when you step up to the plate on April 2, we will give you a standing ovation to commemorate your incredible efforts to turn around Washington from a city with a baseball team consistently in the basement of the division into a perennial winner. We love you, Bryce Harper. But, to put it mildly, we just don’t love the Phillies, or Philadelphia.