Not long after news broke of Bryce Harper’s signing by Philadelphia, funeral songs could almost be heard among some Chicago Cubs fans. Many wanted him, even though we never really deeply knew him. So the dirges seemed more for the passing of a half-pinup/half-phantom.
Half pinup because by reputation and locks he was the sexiest free agent on the market. Half phantom since his value delivered has not been in MLB’s Top 30 by either bWAR or fWAR in any of the last three years. By comparison, Jason Heyward ranked 10th and 11th by bWAR and 12th and 23rd by fWAR in two seasons prior to signing with the Cubs.
Plus, Harper lost 130 games to injuries in three of his last six seasons. Throw in his poor record against elite playoff power pitchers, and I’m on record as having had little interest in adding Harper to the Cubs at the astronomical figures cited. This includes his final “get” of $330 million over 13 years from the Phillies, which could have haunted Theo Epstein like the Carl Crawford deal in Boston.
However, this did not deter my enjoyment of Harper Watch by other teams, which culminated with a number of very enjoyable “Emergency Podcasts” following the big announcement. By far the most thrilling was by High Hopes: A Phillies Podcast. Just a half hour long, it captures all of the exhilaration of that fan base’s 18-month long anticipation of bagging a division rival’s star player.
Hosted by James Seltzer and Jack Fritz, the episode begins with joyous shrieks that should remind Cubs fans of the excitement and relief that met Jon Lester’s signing. Some of the fun quotes included:
- “Bryce Harper – the face of baseball – is a Philadelphia Philly! Are you kidding me. We got the face of baseball! We did it!
- “The Phillies are now World Series contenders! Go get Dallas Keuchel now.”
- “You know what this means? Plenty of money for Mike Trout. Bryce Harper and Mike trout are finishing their careers together here. They are riding off into the sunset with [Phillies owner] John Middleton’s money.”
They recorded the podcast so instantly that details of Harper’s deal rolled in as they recorded. This gave rise to an ecstatic and over-the-top exchange when they learned the deal featured no opt-outs. Fritz even pointed out that his co-host’s infant daughter will be a teenager when this deal ends. This, of course, assumes despite the deal’s full no-trade clause Bryce Harper isn’t traded like Alex Rodriguez and Giancarlo Stanton were midway through their deals.
In the D.C. market, MASN All-Access Podcast’s wasn’t awash in emotion given Harper rejected a previous 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nationals. Still, the deal’s length still shocked Bobby Blanco and Paul Mancano.
Said Blanco, “Bryce is going to be in Philly until he is 39 years old, which is incredible. I am going to be 40 when that contract is finally over. That is absurd and mind-blowing. The saga is finally over. We’ve been counting to this day for two years.”
Some other bits:
- “In D.C. for a long time, the general idea was anywhere but Philly. Don’t go not only in the division but to the city two hours to the north. Local guy. You’re going to face him 19 times a year now over the next 13 years.”
- “I am absolutely shocked this contract does not include an opt-out.”
- “I have no problem with the Nationals – and we will never know if this was actually the case – saying ‘Nope. We made our 10-year, $300 million offer. Three hundred thirty is a little too much for us and for 13 years.’ ”
Last, The Ringer’s MLB Show was a bit more forensic, as befits a national podcast without the local rooting interests. Still, the episode kicked off with a jazzed Michael Baumann singing part of Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” to co-host Zach Kram. As with previously mentioned pods, the size and shape of the contract was the most immediately intriguing aspect for them.
“Some of this is the Phillies wanting to push down Harper’s value against the competitive balance tax,” Said Kram. “There have been reports this deal is front-loaded, which makes sense because Harper is worth more than the $25 million and change he’s gonna make every year.
“He’s probably worth $30, $35, $40 million, if not more. This is about the next seven years, between five to eight years. That is the rest of Harper’s prime. That is what the Phillies wanted to lock up. The rest is just however you want to do the accounting.”
All of the podcast was interesting, especially as it gave a bigger-picture, less parochial take. A couple other interesting quotes:
- “Honestly I think the Dodgers should have gone after Harper as soon as they traded Puig and Kemp. Instead they went significantly cheaper with A.J. Pollock, and I think they will regret that in the long term.”
- “I honestly don’t know if I am going to pick [the Phillies] to win the east.”
One of the hosts also said with Harper, the Phillies can be forecast to go from an 84-win team to an 88-win team. This gets us back to the always questionable PECOTA prediction territory, but it also reminds baseball is not basketball or football, where a single superstar or Pro Bowl quarterback can be as determinant.
I doubt Harper lives up to half of this contract. Given his injury history, psychological makeup and early age-22 peak, it seems unlikely he even returns to serious MVP contention. But now I’m in prediction territory, and the fun part will be watching what the upcoming and future seasons bring. Will Harper be more Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Howard after signing their huge contracts? We shall see.