Could the Philadelphia Phillies make the biggest free-agent signing in league history in 2018?
After the Ken Giles to the Houston Astros deal was officially announced Saturday afternoon, Yahoo!’s Jeff Passen made an interesting observation about the Phillies’ future. In addition to having re-stocked their farm system over the last calendar year, which will set the team up for a bright long-term future in itself, the Phillies don’t have a single cent on the books for the 2019 season.
As Passen also noted, the 2018 free-agent class is starting to line up as one of the best in the history of the league. And in the same way that a 25 year-old LeBron James reached free-agency in 2010 to highlight the greatest free-agent class in NBA history, the 2018 MLB free-agent class could be highlighted by a 26 year-old Bryce Harper, perhaps entering the best stretch of what looks as though it could end up being a hall of fame career.
And realistically, the Phillies may be in a very good situation to court Harper.
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In the next three seasons, the Phillies probably won’t ascend to being a title contender, so they won’t have years of playoff contention to sell Harper on. But with J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola and this year’s number one pick headlining a young crop of talent that many expect to end the Phillies’ recent run of bad fortune, they could sell Harper on their team being a player like him away from building a long-term contender in the National League. It’s not all that different from what the Nationals were able to sell Jayson Werth on prior to the 2011 season, when they convinced him to leave the Phillies in the midst of their greatest five year run in club history.
Of course, Werth getting a seven-year/$126 million deal from the Nationals, as opposed to the insulting offer the Phillies reportedly gave him, probably had more to do with Werth leaving for the nation’s capital. And given that Scott Boras is Harper’s agent, the highest bidder may walk away with his services as well. Fortunately, the Phillies will be in as good of a position to overwhelm Harper (and Boras), assuming they don’t doll out any major deals between now and then.
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What would it cost to land Harper? In 2013, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post was among those to scoff at Boras suggesting that Harper could land a 12 year-deal on the open market. Since then, Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year extension with the Marlins, so there’s no reason to think Harper couldn’t get a deal in that range.
In terms of annual average, Harper may approach a range that some of us thought we would never see in our lives. If 32 year-old Zack Greinke could sign a deal that averages $34 million per season, Harper could easily get in the range of $40 million per season now. If there’s three more years of inflation, plus Harper probably becoming even more dominant, who’s to say that a 26 year-old Harper couldn’t get $45 or $50 million per season? If you average those numbers out over 10 seasons, it doesn’t take a math expert to arrive at the conclusion that Harper could land a deal worth close to half a billion dollars.
Would Matt Klentak and the organization be interested in making that kind of investment? Would Harper be interested in coming to Philadelphia when teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and, of course, the Nationals will likely bid for him as well? It’s probably too early to tell. It’s not, however, too early to suggest that the Phillies are one of the on-paper favorites for Harper, if he hits free-agency after the 2018 season. And he will hit free-agency.
- If the Phillies don’t land Harper, or choose not to chase him, they’ll still have plenty of options during 2018 free-agency. Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen and Jason Heyward could all be free-agents. That list accounts for the 2015 AL MVP, and two of the last three NL MVPs. The third of the last three NL MVPs? Harper.
- People that get upset when the Phillies make signings like David Hernandez are the worst. To build an elite bullpen, you do have to have some electric young arms, probably ones that you develop in your own system. But the 2008 Phillies’ bullpen was so deep because of shrewd pick-ups like Chad Durbin, who certainly wasn’t a sexy name when the team signed him.
- Anyone who thought that the Phillies were simply naming a general manager just to fill out the position sure have been proven wrong. Team president Andy MacPhail may be in charge of the organization, but general manager Matt Klentak is making the phone calls and decisions on personnel.