By now, I’m sure every baseball fan has heard of the name Bryce Harper. I’m also certain that every baseball fan knows, that Harper could be the headliner of a loaded 2019 free-agent class. I say “could be”, because there’s a possibility that Harper never hits the open market. The 23-year-old phenom is currently under contract to the Washington Nationals, and will remain under contract until the end of the 2018 season.
If Bryce is to test his value on the open market three seasons from now, he will only be 26 years old. It is an extremely rare situation when a player as young as Harper, hits free agency before he reaches he peak. As a result of that, Harper will require a large chunk of money. Just how much money is the question. NBC Sports columnist Joe Posnanski recently speculated that Harper could become the first “$500 million player.” As insane as that may sound, it’s actually not out of the realm of possibility.
If Harper is to leave Washington after the 2018 season, he will be doing so at the age of 26. A recent study by J.C. Bradbury of Baseball Prospectus shows that most players experience their best years from age 26-29, and a player’s decline typically begins at 31. This means that Harper would “in theory” have five seasons of great production left, before he begins to hit the downward slide. It would be an unprecedented step in MLB free agency, as players typically do not hit the open market in their mid-twenties. Alex Rodriguez is the only player of major significance to hit the market at that age in the free agency era. When “A-Rod” became available following the 2000 season, he signed a record-breaking 10-year, $252 million contract. If it had not been for recent contract extensions Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, and Felix Hernandez all could have tested the market in their mid-twenties as well. It’s not as if these players took a discounted rate to stay with their hometown team; all are being quite handsomely. Trout will still get to test free agency at a young age, and Stanton will likely opt-out of his contract with the Miami Marlins.
With a player of Harper’s stature ready to test his value in the prime of his career, there will be an overabundance of suitors. I can safely say that every MLB team will have some level of interest in Bryce. However, the interest levels will vary on teams. With Harper figuring to command such a monumental contract, it’s widely expected that a bidding war will break out for his services, among the “big money” teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, etc. One team to look out for in any potential bidding war, is the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies are going to potentially be in a very interesting position, as Bryce readies himself to hit the open market. Following the 2018 season, the Phillies are not projected to have any “significant” payroll commitments. By “significant,” I mean none more than $1 million. Now, this will obviously change between current day and the end of the 2018 season, as players become eligible for arbitration and contract extensions are brought to the table. The point though, is that the Phillies will have a ton of money to go on a major shopping spree.
There are likely some of you out there asking yourselves “Why would Bryce Harper go to Philly?” To answer that question, let me map it out for you.
1.) Available Funds
As I previously stated, the Phillies are likely to be pretty free-spending in 2018, as they won’t have any significant financial commitments. If you take a look around at other teams in Major League Baseball, it’s pretty easy to narrow down the suitors of Harper. The Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and Detroit Tigers already have approximately $100 million committed to their 2019 payroll, likely meaning they won’t have the necessary funds to throw at Harper. On the totally opposite end of the spectrum, you have teams with notoriously small payrolls. Clubs like the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins won’t likely take the hit and make a splash by signing Bryce Harper. That narrows down the field from thirty teams, to twenty. Out of the twenty teams remaining, the Phillies may have the most money to throw Harper’s way.
The Phillies currently have practically nothing committed to their 2019 payroll. While that’s likely to change, I doubt it will increase so much in the next three seasons, that it hurts their chances at taking a shot on Harper.
2.) How close are they to contending?
Another factor that Harper will consider when looking at suitors, is the level of competitiveness. Any player that hits the open market is likely looking at teams that are close to contending, and viewing them as serious potential destinations. At this current moment, teams like the Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago White Sox don’t fit that mold. Depending on future signings and prospect development, things can, and will likely change between now and 2019. However, it looks like these teams are out at the current moment.
Taking a look at the Phillies, they are in a prime position right now. Due to a few trades in the past eight months, their prospect pipeline is more loaded than it has ever been. According to the recent MLB.Com Top 100 prospects list, Philadelphia has seven prospects in the top 100. J.P. Crawford is the only prospect that ranks inside the top 50, while Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, and Mark Appel are the other notables inside the top 100. Coupling together the prospect pipeline with the young talent currently in the majors (Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, etc) and the Phillies will be pushing for a playoff spot, sooner than most think.
3.) Will Bryce be in the spotlight?
With the field narrowed down to about half of the league, there’s one more factor that Harper would likely take into consideration. Considering his personality, it’s not a stretch to believe that Harper would desire being known as the “Face of a Franchise.” A number of the teams remaining already have a “Face of the Franchise.” The Cubs have Kris Bryant, the Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt, and the Astros have Carlos Correa. That would theoretically leave the Texas Rangers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies as viable possible destinations for Harper.
By coming to Philadelphia, Harper would immediately become the “Face of the Franchise.” Not only would Harper’s presence on the field improve the overall team play, but it would surely help with ticket sales. Having a household name like Bryce Harper playing every night is about as much of a public boost, that a team could ask for. Most importantly, his passion and emotion for the game of baseball would show, and instantly make him a beloved fan favorite.
The Phillies have a few more years to angle and position themselves to sign Bryce Harper, but by the time he hits free agency, Philadelphia could indeed emerge as an attractive destination.