Later on tonight I’m going to arrive in the happiest place in Florida these days- Clearwater. With Bryce Harper’s arrival and signing, Phillies fans are practically floating on cloud nine. It’s just my dumb luck that a long planned vacation will coincide with one of the biggest arrivals in Phillies history.
Make absolutely no mistake- the signing of Bryce Harper joins the Pete Rose, Jim Thome, and Cliff Lee signings in franchise significance. Signing Harper re-affirms that the Phillies are in fact among the few mega-markets in Major League Baseball. This is the biggest guaranteed contract in North American sports history, and it came against major competition from Los Angeles and San Francisco, two super markets in their own right. This signing is one of those major moments that make you re-evaluate your view of what your team, and city, are.
The Phillies obviously win here. They got their super-star they coveted. I won’t argue that Bryce Harper is currently the best player in baseball, but he is the face of the sport today. They got him with a little bit of money to spare for future free agents. He joins Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto as the first set of three All-Stars from the previous season to join a new club together. He joins Andrew McCutchen as former NL MVP’s joining the Phillies. He will be one of five different opening day position starters from an off-season where the Phillies transformed their line-up from one of the worst offensive and defensive NL line-ups to an elite one. It is fair to now predict them as a playoff team in 2019.
The Phillies aren’t even close to the only winners though, despite a media bias that is slanted against them. Despite the dismissal of his achievement, Scott Boras is a huge winner here for getting his client a record contract in terms of years and raw dollars. Some have questioned his decision to initially turn down the Nationals $300 million offer, but its worth noting that a third or more of that ten year offer was in deferred money. Boras managed to get his target in dollars, and not manage to make his client look like a money-hungry jerk. He signed a record shattering deal, and still left Harper’s new team to make the moves necessary to win a title. Boras deserves credit, even if the slow time line annoyed you.
What about Harper? Some of the critics of this deal seem to want to make their criticisms about Philadelphia. That would be a top five volume media market, America’s original Capitol, and it’s sixth largest city. Philadelphia, the largest market in MLB with only one team, a city considerably larger than Boston or Washington, and a city with an absolutely rabid and loyal fan base. Yes, his last three choices included Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco- a set of three cities that any man should kill to choose from. Three of the great cities in America, and the world. Bryce Harper went to a young, emerging team that improved by 14 games from 2017 to 2018. He went to a team that has a top third farm system, super rich owner, and mega TV contract. In the midst of this great deal, Harper got a team who valued him enough to give him a record contract, and wants to build around him. Philadelphia is really lucky to have Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper is lucky to have Philadelphia, too. Consider this scenario the equivalent to getting a new puppy, for both sides.
Many people will make this about Harper leaving Washington, and indeed it will be such for 247 days over the next 13 years, excluding playoff games. Let’s be clear here though, this was baked in for months. Harper turned down their offer at the end of 2018. The Nationals owner twice this off-season, before the Winter meetings and last week, made clear that the Nationals stopped pursuing Harper along the way too. Nationals fans can be mad at Harper all they’d like for moving up I-95, but they left him as much as he left them. All in the name of young, emerging prospects.
Let’s be honest here though, Harper in defection delivered to the Nationals what they’ve longed for since signing Jayson Werth before the 2011 season- geographic relevance. Just as Werth gave birth to DC baseball mattering, Harper re-affirms for the Phillies their relevance too. In both cases the opposing fan base sneered at their “neighbors” for paying a boat load of money, but in both cases the added value was worth every cent. The Nationals thought at the time of Werth arriving that it would create a rivalry, but it never did- the two teams barely spent a full season both being relevant together. Now DC has it’s villain, it’s nationally televised games, it’s hated rival– the team that dominated them from inception until 2011, the fans that literally took over their park. From an entertainment value standpoint, if the Nats were losing Harper regardless, losing him to Philadelphia is probably the best case scenario.
What about the San Francisco Giants? The reported runner-ups in the Harper sweepstakes obviously lose by not getting him, right? Sure, but that’s an over simplification. With an aging team, retiring manager, and recently deceased owner, one could have assumed they would re-build and avoided big free agents. A 12 year, $310 million offer to Harper let’s us know that San Francisco remains serious. They’re still the real deal.
So who lost? The LA Dodgers. National reporters who wanted to treat Philadelphia as a “B Market.” Maybe the New York Mets. The Dodgers won the last two NL Pennants, but lost the World Series both times, and now passed on making a long-term offer to a player who could have changed their fortunes. The tire narrative of major athletes avoiding Philadelphia, a favorite of the sports media elite, has again been defeated. As for the Mets, they are in position to potentially watch their natural rival suddenly battle the Nationals as their new rivals. Maybe none of this matters. Maybe it all does.
What I do know is that this is perfect for the Phillies. They got their guy. They showed their might. They had an outstanding off-season. This should be a fun week in Clearwater.