“Harper’s Bazaar” has reached a conclusion. The Phillies reached an agreement to sign Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330MM contract that now stands as the largest fully guaranteed contract in all of professional sports. While the journey to this terminus was tedious (surely even more so for those involved than for those of us following at a distance), it would appear that Harper and Boras ultimately met the goals they set out to achieve.
Boras, speaking to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (all Twitter links), made clear that Harper’s goal all offseason was to secure the longest contract possible. “Bryce wanted one city for the rest of his career,” said Boras. “That’s what I was instructed to do. It is very difficult in this time to get length of contract that takes a player to age 37, 38, 39.” That difficulty led to a trade-off in terms of annual value. Boras added that the hitter-friendly nature of Citizens Bank Park and owner John Middleton’s commitment to the courtship process both helped to sway Harper as well.
- One notable aspect of Harper’s deal was the lack of a player opt-out clause — a contract term that has largely become a standard feature of big deals. Boras went on record with Tom Verducci of SI.com on this point, saying that his client “refused to allow me” to negotiate an opt-out because he wanted “to be with one team.” While some may raise an eyebrow when hearing an agent suggest that his client didn’t want an opt-out clause in the contract, Harper’s former manager, Dusty Baker, suggested the same thing in a recent interview on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link, with audio). “I’ve been told that he wants to be a free agent one time in his career, so I’m sure that’s probably got a lot to do with his decision,” said Baker. If you’re looking for a broad narrative account of Harper’s market experience — with loads of intriguing details and Boras’s commentary on many aspects of the deal and process — you’ll want to give Verducci’s piece a full read.
- Talks between the Phillies and Harper’s camp escalated so rapidly on Thursday morning that general manager Matt Klentak didn’t even have time to get to the team offices, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. According to Zolecki, Klentak closed out the negotiations alone from his condo. Zolecki details some of the many twists and turns negotiations took this weekend, noting that at one point, because the Phillies were worried about losing Harper to a shorter-term deal with a record-shattering average annual value, they put forth three separate offers: a short-term deal with that same type of AAV, a “mid-term” deal and the 13-year, $330MM offer to which Harper eventually agreed. Tacking on those final three seasons without actually upping the $330MM guarantee many expected it’d take to sign Harper was indeed a means of lowering Harper’s luxury tax hit to provide future flexibility when constructing rosters.
- The Giants’ top offer to Harper checked in at a hefty $310MM over a 12-year term, as first reported by Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area (via Twitter). The Giants would’ve been willing to go higher, according to Pavlovic, but they’d have had to push their final offer quite a ways north of $330MM given the discrepancy between taxes in California and taxes in Pennsylvania. At the end of the bidding, Boras asked the Giants to top the winning bid “by at least $20 million,” per Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic (subscription link). San Francisco was long rumored to be interested in Harper only on a short-term pact, though it appears that the team did indeed step up and make a larger push for Harper in the late stages of negotiations. Notably, as Baggarly reports, team CEO Larry Baer says that it was president of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi — not ownership — that “was the leading advocate for Harper.” While the Giants entered the fray relatively late in the game, Baer says the club’s interest emerged after Zaidi had spent time evaluating his resources and watching the market develop.
- Meanwhile, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Dodgers never really deviated from their insistence on a short-term deal (Twitter link). Per his report, though, Los Angeles put forth offers with enormous annual values — a three-year, $135MM pact ($45MM AAV) and a four-year, $168MM offer as well ($42MM AAV). That’s contrary to what Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported (subscription link); his sources indicate that the Dodgers were “well below $40 million” in annual value in their bidding. It’s worth noting that Boras, in his previously mentioned comments to Sherman, flatly indicated that he received offers of $45MM in AAV (without specifying the source) and stated that Harper had a “full buffet” from which to choose. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes opines (via Twitter), that the Dodgers “went overboard” with their insistence on a short-term deal in not even showing a willingness to pay Harper into his age-30 or age-31 season on a five- or six-year contract. It seems fair to say, too, that Harper also made a bold choice in his own right by turning down those fantastical annual salaries — if indeed they were on offer.
- While many will tab the contracts given out to Harper and Manny Machado as overpays, Eno Sarris of The Athletic argues to the contrary, calling each deal a relative bargain (subscription required). Looking at long-term projection models for each player’s production, Sarris concludes that the Phillies are effectively paying Harper at a $/WAR valuation that starts at $6MM in the first year of the contract (and increases from there with inflation). That, he notes, was considered the going rate for a win in free agency more than a decade ago (in 2008). As Sarris notes, projection systems are hardly flawless, and the same goes for the dollars-per-win argument. However, he also notes that when factoring inflation into the equation, the Harper and Machado contracts don’t rank anywhere near the top of the scale in terms of present-day dollars despite the fact that MLB revenues are higher than ever. (To that end, I’ll point out that Harper’s AAV is scarcely even higher than the $25.2MM annual value achieved by Alex Rodriguez with the Rangers nearly 20 years ago.)