CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper’s reign as the highest-paid player in baseball history didn’t last long.
But then, that was the idea.
Throughout his long winter as a free agent, Harper wanted to play for a team that was ready to win and in a city that would make him and his wife, Kayla, comfortable. But as the biggest star on the market, he also felt a responsibility to get the most money he could and raise the bar for the players who would sign after him. As much as anything, that obligation led him to his 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.
Harper never guessed that Mike Trout would smash that mark only 2½ weeks later. But Harper insisted he was neither surprised nor resentful Tuesday when word leaked that Trout agreed to a 12-year, $430 million extension with the Angels that could become official Thursday.
“When I talked to him this offseason it was kind of, ‘Man, I want to get as much as I can so that you can blow me out of the water pretty much.’ And he did,” Harper said Wednesday before notching his first hit in Grapefruit League play. “I was very excited for him. I’m excited for Mookie [Betts] to see what he gets when he goes about it. [Aaron] Judge, as well. For the players, I think it’s huge for us."
That's the way it works. The enormous paydays recently conferred upon Harper and fellow free agent Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million with the Padres) were paved by previous deals for players such as Albert Pujols ($240 million with the Angels in 2011), Robinson Cano ($240 million with the Mariners in 2013), Prince Fielder ($214 million with the Tigers in 2012) and Alex Rodriguez ($252 million with the Rangers in 2000 and $275 million with the Yankees in 2007).
Lately, though, many superstars haven't been waiting for free agency to cash in.
Trout, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, Phillies ace Aaron Nola and Yankees right-hander Luis Severino lead the growing list of players who reached agreements on extensions to stay with their teams. Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, eligible for free agency after this season, might follow. And all eyes are on Betts, the Red Sox star who can become a free agent after the 2020 season.
"It's personal preference," said Harper, who tested free agency after seven seasons with the Nationals. "Whatever you feel. It has to work on both sides, as well . Colorado was willing to do that for Nolan; the Angels were willing to do that [for Trout]. Do you want to get [to free agency] or do you not want to get there and sign the extension? And also, does the team want to be able to do that for you as well? Super-excited for the guys that have done it and have been able to get what they want."
Harper played seven innings Wednesday in a 3-1 loss to the Tigers. He went 1-for-2 with a single to center field, drew a walk and scored a run, and is now 1-for-10 in major-league spring-training games. He will play again Thursday before taking Friday off and playing right field on Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the Phillies break camp.
Upon hearing the news Tuesday, Harper said he texted a congratulatory message to Trout and wished him well. He claimed to hardly mind that his record-setting deal was eclipsed so quickly.
"I got the contract I wanted. I got the length that I wanted and all the money and things like that," Harper said. "I got more money than I'll know what to do with. Once I knew Trout was going to sign, it's inevitable that he was going to be the highest-paid player in the game and all of sports. I'm very happy for him."
But Trout's deal also puts an end to the fantasy that he and Harper could eventually team up. After signing with the Phillies, Harper tested baseball's tampering policy by claiming he would try to recruit Trout as a free agent in two years.
Maybe they could still be teammates in 2032?
“If I’m playing until then, I’ve got problems,” Harper said, laughing. “I’m going to be at home.”