Phillies Get Bryce Harper and Bryce Harper Gets Massive Payout

This offseason, Bryce Harper failed to reach an agreement with 29 teams on a long term contract that will pay him more millions in any one deal than any baseball player has ever received before. Fortunately for Harper, there are 30 teams in major league baseball, and after a winter (and arguably, a life time) of waiting, the 26-year-old and the Philadelphia Phillies have agreed to a contract that will pay Harper $330 million dollars over 13 years, with a no-trade clause and no deferrals or opt-outs, per Jon Heyman and Jeff Passan. In exchange for that large guarantee, the Phillies get a star player, both in reputation and performance. His five-win 2019 projection is one of the very best in the game, and he greatly improves the Phillies’ chances of a playoff spot in a tough division.

Prior to adding Harper, the Phillies had already made several big moves, adding J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and David Robertson. Despite those additions, the Phillies were still projected for a win total in the low 80s, and found themselves in a real fight with the Braves and Mets for second place in the division. Harper jumps into a corner outfield spot with the Phillies and improves the team by around four wins over what Nick Williams would’ve provided, vaulting the Phillies past the Mets and Braves and into a conversation with the Nationals for best team in the division and potentially the National League. Harper gets his record-breaking contract, topping Machado’s free agent deal and Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension. The money is more spread out, with a roughly $25 million average annual value that could benefit the Phillies as they navigate the competitive balance tax in the future, so go ahead and start (or continue) the rumor that Mike Trout will make his way to Philly after the 2020 season.

While the wait this winter has been a long one, as free agency drags into spring training, this deal has been an even longer time coming for the former teen phenom. Ten years ago, a 16-year-old Harper was asked what he wanted from baseball, and he responded with all the bravado of a teenager, mentioning the Hall of Fame, pinstripes, and becoming “the greatest baseball player who ever lived.” As for the criticism that came with the comparisons to LeBron James and seeming hubris of a wunderkind gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated when he could barely drive, Harper embraced it, saying “I love the way people talk crap. I hear it all the time. Overrated. You suck. I’ll just do something to shut them up, like, I’ll show you.”

A decade later, he’s still on track for the Hall of Fame, though New York’s trade for Giancarlo Stanton made pinstripes unlikely, and Mike Trout’s existence all but ensures that Harper won’t even be the greatest player of his generation. That Harper might have to settle for Cooperstown speaks to the great expectations placed on the former number one overall pick and NL Rookie of the Year. As for those trying to cut him down, a decade has likely wisened Harper to the reality that nothing he can do will ever stop the naysayers or the perception that he hasn’t done enough. After putting up consecutive four-win seasons at 19 and 20 years old, Harper was rewarded by his peers by being voted the most overrated player in the game two years in a row. While multiple All-Star-level campaigns should have been enough to draw positive attention, Harper wasn’t satisfied; he got better. At 22 years of age, he put up one of the greatest single hitting seasons of all-time and won the NL MVP award unanimously. Just two seasons later, he was again considered the most overrated player in the game by his peers.

The expectations placed upon Harper by the media, his agent Scott Boras, and by Harper himself have shaped the way he is viewed by players and fans. The Commissioner opted to single Harper out for daring to think a $400 million contract was a reasonable ask. When greatness is the standard, slumps, team failures in the playoffs, injuries that have shortened seasons, and one season’s worth of poor defensive metrics garner more attention than a Hall of Fame pace. With this contract, those expectations aren’t going away, but if his track record, projections, and comps are any indication, some of the boasts of a 16-year-old might well become reality, as Harper continues to put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers.

Comparisons help frame our understanding of players, but in free agency, historical comparisons can often do a disservice to a player like Harper. Most free agents are older than he is. Andrew McCutchen became a free agent for the first time this winter at age 32. When Harper reaches McCutchen’s age, he will be in the seventh year of his contract. Comparing Harper’s contract to 10-year deals is nearly meaningless when those deals miss on multiple prime years at the beginning and instead mostly contain multiple years in the late-30s when age decimates nearly all players. Perpetuating the owner’s message that 10-year deals don’t work out is an exercise without utility.

Since Jackie Robinson joined the majors in 1947, only 13 players have put up a WAR within five of Harper’s 30.7 and within 20% of his 3957 plate appearances through their age-25 seasons, including Manny Machado. The 11 players who preceded this year’s free agent pair averaged 39 WAR from age 26 through age-35, and eight of the 11 players are in the Hall of Fame. Even ignoring Harper’s MVP season, his comps create an incredibly high floor. According to my colleague Dan Szymborski, ZiPS, which uses some fairly conservative playing time estimates due to the length of the deal, still has Harper worth more than 30 wins over the life of the contract even with the last few seasons projected to be below replacement-level.

In the past two decades, the only players at Harper’s age or younger to reach free agency with a similarly high level of play are Alex Rodriguez, whose 140 wRC+ through age-25 is identical to Harper, and Manny Machado. The latter just received his own $300 million deal, while the former signed for $252 million nearly two decades ago. Those dollar figures can also deceive in free agency, as Rodriguez’s deal is worth close to $600 million in today’s payroll dollars. Machado’s contact might be the first free agent contact to reach $300 million, but it’s the 10th MLB contract to reach that amount in today’s dollars, while 22 deals have been worth $252 million or more adjusting for MLB payroll inflation.

It’s possible that Harper’s defense has taken a more lasting turn for the worse, and will limit his value going forward. It’s possible Harper gets hurt. He might age poorly. There is inherent risk in making any decade-long-plus commitment when you only get to see a single outcome. It’s important to bake that risk and that downside into future expectations. When we factor that risk with the very good player Harper has mostly been, the great player he’s sometimes been, and the upside associated with a star’s late-20s–make no mistake, even at this high cost, there is still substantial upside–this is an objectively good deal. Adding Harper for 2019 is always going to look good. Every single team in baseball would love to have had Harper for this season. The reason those 29 other teams don’t is their unwillingness to make the substantial commitment that comes after this season. Those teams undoubtedly have their reasons for not making that outlay, but based on everything we know, the Phillies did a very good job in securing a likely Hall of Famer fairly early on his career while paying a reasonable price to do so. For both sides, it has been a long time coming.

We hoped you liked reading Phillies Get Bryce Harper and Bryce Harper Gets Massive Payout by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Fredchuckdave
Member

Sullivan said 326 million, what a fraud.

On a more serious note this seems like kind of an absurd length unless Harper turns into Hank Aaron (Stanton length also stupid but team extensions tend to look that way, e.g. Ryan Howard/Miguel Cabrera/Joey Votto; also apparently it was movable).

Phillies “We’ll give you 12/324”

Boras “Fuck that shit!”

Phillies “Alright 13/330”

Boras “Deal.”

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

Thing is…Harper will “only” be 38, come Year 13 of his deal.

Jeter had a 117 wRC+ in his age 38 season.

A-Rod had a 129 wRC+ at age 39 (although, given the reason there’s no data for his age-38 season, he may not be an ideal comp).

Those guys are obviously not the norm…but it’s not crazy to expect him to maintain a high level of performance through his mid-late 30s.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I haven’t thought about this too deeply, but this is why I thought it was weird that there was so much smoke about landing Machado and Harper with very-high AAV deals, but that were shorter in length. They’re young enough that while a 13-year deal will be terrible on the back end, there is a decent chance they’ll still be worth a roster spot, and maybe even good enough to start.

The Guru
Member
The Guru

exactly….harper is not pujols or cabrera and sigining 10 year deals when he’s 34 years old. Harper and machado are only 26. tons of comps that played at extremely high level until they were 38.

ThomServo
Member
ThomServo

There isn’t though. Run simulations, odds Harper or Machado are 2 win players at age 38 are extremely low.

Age curves have changed alot.

muz
Member
Member
muz

Harper wasn’t even a 2 win player last year. There’s plenty of risk that he isn’t worth this paycheck by the time he’s 38.

Lunch Angle
Member
Member
Lunch Angle

According to BRef, Harper was a 1.3 WAR player last year. According to Fangraphs though, 3.5

fredsbank
Member
fredsbank

Dude you pay money to be a member here and can’t even be bothered to look at Fangraphs WAR?

GeneralKnarf
Member
GeneralKnarf

And the flip side of this is Jason Heyward had a 5.6 fWAR/6.6 bWAR season at age 25 before hitting the open market

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

Heyward did that with a 121 wRC+, carried by a .330 BABIP despite a sub-30 “Hard%,” and a .146 ISO in Busch.

Alice Cooper
Member
Alice Cooper

288 different position players have played during their Age 38 since 1950.

15 of them produced at least 3 WAR … 5.2%
42 of them produced at least 2 WAR … 14.58%
82 of them produced at least 1 WAR… 28.5%
116 of them produced 0 WAR or less … 40.3%

YMMV on the definition of “crazy” and “high level of performance”

scotman144
Member
Member
scotman144

That’s actually pretty encouraging that the “average” 38 year old there still beats replacement level ~60% of the time and produces above average (>2WAR) ~20%. Assuming normal aging for Harper I like his chances for those probabilities to be much higher than those averages given the very high present talent level to decline from. There is extremely low likelihood of extremely high production at 38 but what looks like a very solid chance at OK to above average production at 38.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

The “average” 38 year old isn’t playing in MLB at the age of 38. The median 38 year old who *was* an MLB player earlier in his career is a negative WAR player who is accumulating 0 WAR because he’s no longer in the league.

Granted, Harper base been a well above average player, but the broader point stands that aging curves need to account for survivorship bias and just looking around at “here are the late 30’s players still in MLB” gives a very misleading view of all players as a group.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett

Exactly. The fact that in the past 68 years only 288 players have even played at age 38 is a big red flag on its own.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

The average player hasn’t accumulated 31 WAR through age 25, either…as alluded to in the article.

emh1969
Member
emh1969

This happens even at the higher end. I went back to 1969 and looked at every position player who had won an MVP and a high percentage of them were out of the league by age 38. And lots of others put up less than 1.0 WAR.

(of course, this comes with the caveat that there have been some poor MVP choices over the years, but even the poor choices were generally above average players).

ThomServo
Member
ThomServo

No, “average 38 year old MLB player” is retired.

What you are observing is survivor bias.

A sample of 43 year old MLB players will show solid production as well, as pretty much only Jamie Moyer will count, all others retired. That doesn’t mean the typical 44 year old MLB player is projected to perform as Jamie Noyer did.

Same as true with 19 year old MLB players. Since generally only the greats play MLB at 19, the sample if such players will have string performance baselines- but in no way does that tell us anything about what can typically be expected from 19 year old typical ballplayers.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

So, the question then becomes…how did 19 year old MLBers perform at 38???

bly
Member
bly

i’d bet PAs are way down. Jim Thome posted an OPS over 1.000 in his age 39 year but accumulated “only” 3.0 fWAR because he played about half a season. That leaves a lot of room for another player.

BrewCrew02
Member
BrewCrew02

These only add up to 255 players and 88%….

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

You seem to be forgetting the fact that A-Rod did steroids.

Johnnie T
Member
Johnnie T

Glad it is done… but I find it a little irritating that the specifics of this contract seem so driven by the egos or Boras and/or Harper. I kind of wonder what his contract would have looked like without their apparent interest in showing that they have the biggest, uh, hands, out there.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

The Dodgers offered Harper 4 years at $45M per. He could have absolutely smashed the AAV record and likely held the record for a long time (barring a moderate possibility that Trout breaks that record), but instead he chose to just barely top the overall guarantee record, which will almost certainly be bested by Trout in two years, if not by someone else earlier.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett

he chose another $150 million guaranteed. lol.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

If the probability of Harper getting $150 million+ in free agency at age 30 is greater than 50%, then he would have been better off financially taking the Dodgers’ offer.

Not to mention the fact that he almost certainly preferred the Dodgers as a team and Los Angeles as a location.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett

Sure. Or he could just take the actual $150 million now and not worry about if he might/could get marginally more in the future.

No need to over think it.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

If my first sentence was “over thinking” it to you, I don’t know what else to say. It was in pretty simple English.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett

You are comparing a meaningless AAV “record” to a guaranteed $150 million dollars. You are definitely overthinking things.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

I’m not talking about an AAV record. I’m talking about this:

“If the probability of Harper getting $150 million+ in free agency at age 30 is greater than 50%, then he would have been better off financially taking the Dodgers’ offer.”

You know, the thing that I wrote and that you responded to.

muz
Member
Member
muz

Given how the past 2 FA seasons have gone and that nobody has any idea what the next CBA will do to the league’s financial structure taking the sure $150 million seems like a smart move.

It’s not like he’s going to be living on food stamps at age 40 because he missed out on an extra $20 million in his early 30s.

Anon21
Member
Member
Anon21

He bet on himself once, and it didn’t go completely smoothly. He’s suffered injuries, some serious, and his performance has been pretty volatile. I think Harper did the smart thing here.

fredsbank
Member
fredsbank

“he could smash the AAV record”

As if that’s a thing anybody cares about? He gonna tell his grandkids all about his AAV? Is the Hall of Fame going to start putting AAV on plaques now? Please.

Adam C
Member
Adam C

For comparison this what Hank Aaron did from age 26-38.

1960-72
151 G, .306/.380/.570, 162 OPS+, 38 HR, 109 RBI, 105 R, 173 H, 28 doubles, 70 BB, 323 TB, 7.1 fWAR

Aaron had nine of 13 seasons of at least 7.0 fWAR. How much would this performance be worth in today’s baseball market?

Anon
Member
Anon

We will get an idea what Aaron or Mays would be worth in a couple years when Trout hits FA. . . . .

Jeff Meller
Member
Jeff Meller

Given that Harper only had 1 season in 7 higher than 5.2 fWAR, Aaron would be looking at a $500M/13 contract now that we see how a team will pay Harper. Trout and Betts are both better players than Harper too, so 2021 will be much more interesting than 2019.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

Betts is also a week older than Harper.

His deal likely looks more like Arenado’s.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

He will be 28 when he hits free agency, so the biggest difference is that teams are likely going to be about as willing to give him an 8-year contract as they were willing to give Harper/Machado 10 year deals. So that will cut the overall value down a bit; if he wants a 10 year deal, it’ll come at the expense of AAV.

On the other hand, while he will be the second best player in that year, there is a non-zero chance that he will also be the second-best player to hit the free agent market since A-Rod in 2001. I don’t know how big it will be, but it’s going to be very, very, big–I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Trout both shatter Greinke’s AAV.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

As an OG Mookie stan…he’s averaged 6.8 WAR/650 in his career to date, over ~4 years of PA.

A-Rod had averaged 6.8 WAR/650 in his four years before opting out in 2007.

Pujols had averaged 6.7 WAR/650 in his four.

The main concern I’d have with Betts’ FA value (which I still expect to be in the $30m per year range) is how heavily UZR and DRS inflate COF defense – the bump a 55 CF receives on moving to a corner is usually a fair bit more than a single win, and teams will likely account for that (I highly doubt any of them view Brett Gardner’s 2018 performance as similarly valuable to Nelson Cruz’s and Ketel Marte’s).

He’s “only” a 135 wRC+ guy on his career, and teams tend to value past offensive WAR as more indicative of expected future value than past defensive WAR.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Betts was one of my favorites too, although he has dramatically exceeded even my wildest expectations. My concern with Betts is similar; there’s something weird about Betts and his defense in right field–given how strangely it is shaped at Fenway, it is possible that the defensive statistics aren’t quite adjusting properly for how many balls he “should” be getting too. I haven’t been able to find any home/road splits for defensive statistics to verify, but still, he’s at least an average center fielder and that’s no joke.

The terrifying thing about Mookie Betts is that although he’s going to regress a little bit, he had an OBP of .438 last year, and a .640 SLG. What he’s likely to regress to is still the best corner outfielder in major league baseball.