(Via Mark Brown/Getty Images)
IT HAS FINALLY HAPPENED.
Bryce Harper is now a Philadelphia Phillie.
13 years, $330 million.
Let's take a look at the largest contract in sports history and how it impacts the majors, the National League, the NL East, and the Phillies themselves.
So, the majors as a whole. The greatest free agent in sports history signs the largest contract in sports history. It passes Giancarlo Stanton’s extension with the Marlins as the largest contract ever, extensions included. It smashes Manny Machado’s contract with the Padres as the largest free agent contract ever. Still, it seems like he could've gotten more. Remember: there was talk that Harper was a $500 million man, or at the very least a $400 million man. Instead he settles for “only” $330 million, a far cry from passing Zack Greinke's record for highest total AAV of any player ever, and it doesn't even pass Nolan Arenado's record for the highest AAV of any position player. Harper has a full no trade clause, no deferred money (so no Bobby Bonilla situation on our hands), and most importantly: no opt-outs. Bryce Harper will be a Phillie until the day he retires. This (along with Machado's contract with the Padres to a lesser extent) sets a precedent for all future big name free agents, namely one particular center fielder in Anaheim: Mike Trout. As the best player in baseball, Trout is set to become a free agent after 2020, and will likely be the first $400 million or maybe $500 million man in sports history, no matter where he signs.
For the National League, the question is this: does this make the Phillies the favorite to win the NL Pennant? And the answer is this: well, maybe. It's possible, but even though Harper is a generational talent, it's hard to unseat the two-time defending National League Champs in the Dodgers, who return a lot of talent from their NL Pennant-winning teams and add former All-Star center fielder AJ Pollock. Don't count out the Brewers either. They won 95 games a year ago, and also return a ton of talent, including 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich and fellow All-Stars Lorenzo Cain, Josh Hader, and Jeremy Jeffress among others. That's not even mentioning their farm system, including top prospect Corey Ray. It's also worth noting that the two other teams Harper passed on before signing with the Phillies, both of which were the only known teams except the Phillies and Nationals to offer him a contract, are both National League teams: the Giants and the Dodgers. The Dodgers offered a short contract, but the AAV was rumored to be over $45 million. As for the Giants, well, they also offered Harper a deal at least a decade long for at least $300 million like the Phillies did. The difference is that the Phillies contract offer was longer and worth more total money, even if the AAV on the Giants offer may have been bigger. However, we don't know the specifics of either offer.
Well, the Phillies may not quite be the favorite
to represent the National League in the World Series, but are they at least the favorites in their division? Well, in a word, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Let's look at the other teams in the East to prove why the Phillies are the favorite. Starting with the defending East champion Braves. They could potentially have the best infield in the National League, if not the entire major leagues with Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, new addition Josh Donaldson, and Dansby Swanson. Their outfield of Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis is solid as well. Why aren't they the favorite? Because of all the moves the Phillies made in addition to signing Bryce Harper. Now let's look at the Marlins. They are absolute trash and never had a chance. Onto the Mets. They have new additions in Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, but Robbie is old and Diaz, while great, is only effective out of the bullpen, and one great reliever doesn't make you the division champs. Jed Lowrie is versatile. And Jacob deGrom is just incredible. They're not the favorite because they always find new hilarious injuries, I mean, Brandon Nimmo missed a game with undercooked chicken. And now for Bryce Harper’s old team, the Nationals. They're probably the second best team in the East, behind the Phillies. They still have Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner, and they're both solid. Juan Soto is ready to become a superstar, and Victor Robles is waiting in the wings. And then there's their three great starting pitchers: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. But they aren't the favorite because they lost Bryce Harper.
Now for the Phillies themselves. Not only did they add a generational talent, but they built around him too. They acquired 2018 All-Star shortstop Jean Segura from the Mariners. They acquired 2018 All-Star catcher JT Realmuto from the division-rival Marlins. They signed Andrew McCutchen, a former NL MVP. They signed David Robertson, who may be the best pitcher in the majors. They retained guys like Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, and Rhys Hoskins. Pitching, they have former NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in the rotation, as well as 2018 NL Cy Young finalist Aaron Nola. That's not even mentioning that they just added Bryce Harper.
As for the Red Sox, well, barring a matchup in the World Series, there's not much impacting them. Harper went from one National League team to another, and the only other realistic options for him were other National League teams. No American League teams were in on him, and honestly, it's hard to imagine any American League teams being able to afford him. The usual biggest spenders in the AL, the Red Sox and Yankees, have a lot of money already tied up in other players. The Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton to pay, and the Red Sox have a lot of money tied up in a lot of different players. Still, it's beneficial to not have him in the league.