CLEARWATER, Fla. — Of all the things that have been said since Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies, 52 words that were uttered by the star right fielder in the midst of his 35-minute news conference here last Saturday keep swirling around and around in the collective head of his new fan base.
“I’m making 26 [million dollars] a year, something like that, so I think that’s going to be able to bring some other guys in as well to be able to help this organization win. I know there’s another guy in about two years that comes off the books. We’ll see what happens with him.”
And with that, Mike Trout Watch began.
Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio never occupied the same outfield. Neither did Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Perhaps that’s why the thought of Harper and Trout playing side by side at Citizens Bank Park seems so far-fetched.
Or maybe it’s the money that makes it difficult to comprehend. The Phillies just gave Harper a record-setting 13-year, $330 million deal that will surely be eclipsed by Trout either when he signs an extension with the Los Angeles Angels or reaches free agency after the 2020 season. One team couldn’t possibly bear the weight of two contracts of that magnitude, could it?
A closer look at the Phillies’ future payroll reveals that, yes, they might actually be able to pull it off.
There will be other factors, of course. If Angels owner Arte Moreno has his way, Trout will stay in Orange County for the rest of his career. If he does get to the open market, more teams will be lined up to bid than the handful that were involved in the Harper derby. It’s difficult to imagine the usual big spenders (Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers) staying on the sideline.
And just because Trout is from South Jersey and is fanatical about the Eagles doesn’t mean he will disregard sales pitches from other teams.
But money shouldn’t be an obstacle. It’s part of why the Harper contract worked for the Phillies. By stretching it over 13 years, they kept the average annual value to $25.385 million, a manageable number when dealing with the competitive balance tax.
The Phillies are committed to six players beyond the 2020 season. And between them, Harper, Andrew McCutchen ($16.67 million), Jean Segura ($14 million), Aaron Nola ($11.25 million), Odubel Herrera ($6.1 million) and Scott Kingery ($4 million) will cost a total of $77.4 million against the competitive balance tax in 2021.
It will be easier for the Phillies to retain financial flexibility if inexpensive young players such as Nick Pivetta and Seranthony Dominguez continue to improve and the next wave of prospects (pitcher Adonis Medina, outfielder Adam Haseley, third baseman Alec Bohm and shortstop Luis Garcia) mature into big-league contributors.
But Jake Arrieta’s average $25 million salary will be off the books by 2021 if the Phillies don’t exercise an option, and although the Phillies likely will have tried by then to sign Rhys Hoskins to an extension, they should still have the maneuverability to dole out another hefty contract or two.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented to have two players making an average of at least $25 million on the same roster. The Detroit Tigers won 86 games in 2016 with Miguel Cabrera ($31 million) and Justin Verlander ($25.7 million). Since 2017, the Washington Nationals have carried Max Scherzer ($30 million) and Stephen Strasburg ($25 million). This year, Harper and Arrieta will both top the $25 million mark in average annual value.
Tampering rules prohibit Phillies officials from publicly discussing Trout or any player on another team. But owner John Middleton noted that the club promised Harper that it would continue to add talent in future years, a factor that was important to him as he decided where he was going to spend what likely will be the rest of his career.
“One of the things that was a priority to us is we want to make sure that we can sign Bryce and still have room to do the things that he’s going to want us to do, whether it’s at the July trading deadline or next offseason or five offseasons from now,” Middleton said. “This is a lifetime contract. He’s not just worried about this season or next season. He’s worried about seven years from now, 10 years from now.”
Two years from now, Trout could be faced with the same opportunity that Harper just seized.
Until then, Phillies fans should feel free to dream on.
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