FORT MYERS, Fla. - Bryce Harper finally has selected his new home. He’s going to Philadelphia. For a really long time.
Harper agreed to terms today with the Phillies on a 13-year, $330 million contract, according to a source familiar with the deal. The contract, which is pending a physical, includes no opt-out clauses and guarantees he’ll play in Philadelphia through the 2031 season, when he’ll be 39 years old.
Fancred’s Jon Heyman was first to report the signing.
The deal also means the Nationals will be facing their former slugger at least 234 times over the life of the contract, adding an entirely new dynamic to the D.C.-Philly rivalry.
“Obviously a 13-year deal, that’s good for the game,” said Max Scherzer, learning of the contract terms while speaking with reporters following his three-inning exhibition start today against the Red Sox. “To be that young, and to be a free agent ... you know, teams are flush with money, and it’s good to see teams spend it.”
Washington fans won’t have to wait long to see Harper in an opposing uniform. The Phillies play at Nationals Park on April 2-3, with the two clubs then meeting at Citizens Bank Park April 8-10.
“Hey, we get to face him,” said Scherzer, who depending on the Nationals’ rotation plans could make two of his first three starts against Harper and the Phillies. “It’ll be fun.”
Harper’s signing, on the final day of February, came far later than anyone envisioned at the start of the offseason. It comes with the organization, though, that always loomed as a dangerous suitor for the outfielder’s services.
The Phillies had been saving up money for several years in anticipation of this winter’s marquee free agent class. Once Manny Machado signed with the Padres for 10 years and $300 million last week, pressure mounted on Philadelphia to make a record-setting offer.
Throughout the process, there were questions about Harper’s true interest in playing the rest of his career in Philadelphia. And when reports of face-to-face meetings in Las Vegas this week with the Dodgers and Giants surfaced, the supposed inevitability of a deal with the Phillies began to look weaker.
It’s unknown at this point what the Dodgers and Giants actually offered, but the Phillies did ultimately come through with a record-setting (albeit unconventional) deal. Though the average annual value of the contract ($25.4 million) is well below the game’s highest, the $330 million total is now the new standard in American professional sports, slightly topping Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million with the Marlins (since traded to the Yankees).
The most surprising detail of the contract, though, is the absence of an opt-out clause. That has become a standard feature in most recent mega-contracts, particularly those orchestrated by agent Scott Boras.
Multiple members of the Nationals organization were stunned by that revelation, unsure of Harper’s motivation for restricting his ability to get out of the deal if things don’t go well or if there appears to be an opportunity to get a better deal in three or four years.
Regardless, the total length and value of the contract was welcome news to some Nationals. Even if it means Harper will now become a division rival for many, many years.
“That’s good for the game of baseball, when the superstars get those types of terms in their contracts,” Scherzer said. “The numbers are the numbers, but the structure of the deal is very important. And when you’re dealing with players of his stature ... and we’re pulling for him, to get a good a deal as he can.”
The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million deal in late September, according to club sources, but took that offer off the table once he reached free agency a month later. Though there was some contact between the two sides over the winter, they never re-engaged in serious negotiations, and ownership quickly moved on to pursue other free agents to fill the club’s various needs.
“I tried not to think about it, honestly,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Especially when we got down to spring training, my focus was on the 58 guys we have here. You don’t know what’s ever going to happen. That’s way above whatever I can control. So my focus was on these guys. You’d keep hearing rumors ... this, that and the other. But like I said, once I got down here, I said: ‘I’ve got a job to do. The 58 guys we’ve got, I’ve got to focus on these guys and get ready for the season.’”
Harper was well liked by teammates, particularly a fellow outfielder who burst onto the scene at 19 and appreciated the advice he received from the only other guy in the clubhouse who had experienced that himself.
“He helped me a lot,” Juan Soto said. “The first day I got here, he was the first person to talk to me and give me a hug and say: ‘Whatever you need, I’m going to be here. Just let me know.’”
Even if Harper suddenly becomes a division rival for the next 13 years, those who were alongside him in Washington will remain loyal to him off the field.
“He deserves it,” Martinez said. “He’s one of the best young players in the game. I’m glad I got to spend a year with him. We’ll always be close. He makes that division a little bit tougher. But I wish him all the best, I really do. Good for him.”