As exhausting as the 118-day wait for Bryce Harper was, it all seemed worthwhile at 2:50 p.m. Thursday when word started spreading that the free-agent outfielder was coming to Philadelphia.
Kudos to the fan at Spectrum Field who screamed the details of the deal to manager Gabe Kapler in the home dugout during the Phillies’ exhibition game against Baltimore. It came across loud and clear on the Phillies telecast and got a great chuckle from lead broadcaster Tom McCarthy.
It was immediately fun to think about where the 26-year-old right fielder will hit in the lineup. More about that in a moment. The most amazing part of the deal for Philadelphia fans, however, had to be the details: 13 years, $330 million, no opt-out clause, and a full no-trade clause.
It was a real in-your-face moment for some of the national reporters who had kept insisting that Harper did not really want to play in Philadelphia. That message was sent more than once from a couple of different reporters in New York, and as we now know, it was ridiculous. Agent Scott Boras told me more than a month ago that Harper enjoyed playing in Philadelphia and would have no reservations about signing here.
Proof of that is clearly in the contract. He not only wants to be in Philadelphia, but he also wants to be a Phillie for life and by signing for 13 years, he provides the team with more payroll flexibility in the future. Oh yeah, and this was a win over San Francisco and Los Angeles, too. That’s always a nice bonus.
No matter how this plays out, this was a cool and unpredictable conclusion to Bryce Harper’s free-agent journey and you have Phillies owner John Middleton to thank for it.
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If Kapler did not sleep Thursday night, it had to be because he was thinking about the potential of his lineup this season now that Harper is on board.
You want a leadoff hitter? He can go with second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who has a .366 on-base percentage over the last three seasons. You want a contact guy in the two hole? He can go with shortstop Jean Segura, who has hit .308 and averaged 179 hits the last three years. A power lefty in the three hole? Yeah, he’s going to love those 32 home runs and 93 RBIs that Harper has averaged over the last three seasons. A cleanup hitter? Rhys Hoskins hit 34 home runs and drove in 96 runs without Harper hitting in front of him last year.
The bottom of the order could be the top of the order in a lot of places. Batting fifth: J.T. Realmuto, one of the best catchers in baseball who has hit .286 and averaged 31 doubles, 16 home runs and 62 RBIs over the last three seasons. He’s a catcher who can hit and run, so he will not be clogging the bases. Hitting sixth, you have Andrew McCutchen, a former National League MVP who has not played at that level for the last three years.
Consider this, however: Over the last three seasons, McCutchen has hit .263 with a .356 on-base percentage and .802 OPS while averaging 29 doubles, 24 home runs and 72 RBIs. The Phillies’ six-hole hitters batted .239 (21st in baseball) with a .301 on-base percentage (23rd) and a .694 OPS (18th).
Maikel Franco could hit seventh, not a bad spot for a guy who has averaged 24 home runs over the last three seasons. Odubel Herrera, who hit first, second or third in 64 percent of the Phillies’ games over the last four seasons, will be batting primarily eighth or ninth depending on how Kapler feels about it that day.
The added bonus to all this: The Phillies also become a much deeper team, better suited to handle the inevitable injuries that will come their way. You probably start the season with Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Andrew Knapp on your bench, and I would not sleep on Dylan Cozens’ having some sort of impact before the season is over.
With Harper on board, it’s time for a new countdown: We are only 27 days away from opening day against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
Lots of terrific links for your reading pleasure today, and we’re going to lead off with our Matt Breen, who described the details of the deal and how the dream of Harper playing in Philadelphia finally became a reality.
Our Scott Lauber made it clear that the Phillies have gone from a very good team without Harper to a World Series contender with him. It’s quite a leap for a team that was still rebuilding when it left spring training a year ago.
The focus will be on Harper’s record-setting historic contract, but that should not overshadow the historic things the 26-year-old outfielder has done to this point in his career. If history repeats itself, Harper should have plenty of good baseball left in him over the next decade. Here’s my column comparing Harper to some of baseball’s greatest players.
Sometimes it’s difficult to believe when baseball people tell you they are always the last to know. But Thursday provided a wild scene in which Kapler learned about Harper’s signing with the Phillies from the fans at Spectrum Field in the middle of the team’s exhibition game against Baltimore. Predictably, the player reaction from Aaron Nola, Andrew McCutchen and Zach Eflin was highly favorable.
Our Marcus Hayes did not write a clown column, but he did remind us that Harper once told a reporter he had asked a clown question. The column was a reminder that the deeply talented Harper also brings some considerable baggage with him to Philadelphia, including that little dugout altercation he had with former Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Citizens Bank Park just might be Harper’s field of dreams, Lauber writes.
We enlisted our list man extraordinaire, Ed Barkowitz, to give you 40 things you might not know about Harper.
Our staff took a stab at what the 2019 Phillies will look like with Harper in the fold.
Today: The Phillies’ first full day knowing that Bryce Harper is part of their team.
March 28: Opening day at Citizens Bank Park vs. Atlanta, 3:05 p.m.
March 31: Phillies vs. Braves on Sunday Night Baseball, 7:05 p.m.
April 2: Bryce Harper returns to Nationals Park for a game against Washington, 7:05 p.m.
April 5: Phillies begin first extended homestand against Minnesota and Washington.
The Phillies finished last in the major leagues last season with 1,270 hits. The total number of hits from their eight most-often-used position players (Jorge Alfaro, Carlos Santana, Cesar Hernandez, Scott Kingery, Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams) was 971. The projected 2019 lineup of J.T. Realmuto, Hoskins, Hernandez, Jean Segura, Franco, Andrew McCutchen, Herrera and Bryce Harper combined for 1,139 hits last season, 168 more than last year’s lineup.
The 2018 regulars also combined for 336 extra-base hits. The new-look lineup combined for 406, or 76 more. More hard contact should be welcome at Citizens Bank Park.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Answer: That’s a great question, BDK. I don’t think they regret the Kingery contract at all right now. He will still get a chance to play this season, but there will be far less pressure on him to produce, which could be beneficial for him. I think the Phillies have always viewed him as a guy who can move around to a bunch of positions, and barring injury, that is what will happen this year.
As for Williams, he just became a bench player and is possible trade bait. Usually, you want one of two things from an extra outfielder: You want a guy who can play all three outfield positions like Roman Quinn, or a guy who can launch the ball out of the park. Williams hit 17 home runs last season, so he is obviously a terrific option as a pinch-hitter.
Answer: I doubt they do anything else before the end of spring training, but the wild card here is that a player such as Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel looks at the Phillies and says, “Hey, I didn’t get the deal I wanted this year, so let me sign for one year at a big number and try to win a ring.”