The Bryce Harper saga is officially over.
Four months after the sweepstakes on the outfielder opened up to furious debate and proceeded with unforeseen caution into the chilliest of off-seasons, Harper signed with the Philadelphia Phillies today for $330 million over 13 years.
The deal will pay Harper only $11+ next year but increase to $27 for the next nine seasons, before finishing up with $23+ in the final three years. The contract takes Harper from age 26 to 38. He will turn 39 old around two weeks after the end of the 2031 season.
In the immediate aftermath, St. Louis Cardinals Twitter didn't exactly burn with rage, delight, or complete foolhardy statements. Some were stunned that the deal didn't include a single opt-out clause or any deferred money. Some writers like the esteemed Jon Doble thought the Cardinals missed out, thinking Harper was the player that the organization dreamed of Oscar Tavares becoming. Others could see the term of 13 years as far too AARP for their blood.
What do I think? I am slightly disappointed without being upset over how it turned out. I made it no secret on this website that I wanted the man to wear Cardinal Red. I knew what Harper could do and possibly become in the Lou. A bright and shiny bearded knight with some flair, an attraction that the Cardinals lacked long-term. I wrote about Harper and the Cardinals a few times, which made up about 3 percent of the entire sum of articles written by the rest of St. Louis columnists. In short, he was the "close but no cigar" commodity that didn't pan out.
Why? Term is one idea. The Cardinals despise handing out double-digit contracts to players. Name the last one they did. While you wait, I can tell you it never happened. Matt Holliday signed an eight-year contract. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright signed six years deals. Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols never signed a 10-year deal here.
However, the Cardinals were willing to take on Giancarlo Stanton and his remaining ten years last winter. A contract that would have taken Stanton into his age 38 season, just like Harper. While he's more consistent overall in WAR, Stanton's lifetime OPS and OPS+ stand right with Harper's numbers. Both play right field. Both could be designated hitters or first basemen before the end of their careers. While I'd argue the New York Yankee is a better player overall, Harper isn't far behind.
That's where the disappointed part comes in. Harper won't make more than the $28 million that Albert Pujols will make this upcoming season to produce a .750 OPS, 30 home runs, and 90 RBI. However, Harper didn't have Pujols' illustrious 11-year career to help secure him that contract, so make sure your measuring is even when discussing talents.
There's a scenario where the Cardinals overstep the Phillies, give Harper the years and money, and win a World Series or two in that time. There's also the flipside of the coin where no World Series titles are won.
The move would have bumped Dexter Fowler from the lineup, but that's not a big deal. The bigger deal is the Fowler contract is more representative of what the Cardinals like to offer players. It's also the reason they never entered the Harper sweepstakes. The same reason they will only have to give Paul Goldschmidt, 31-years-old, a five- or six-year contract this year at some point.
What about Nolan Arenado? The Colorado Rockies locked him up with a huge contract on Wednesday. Forget about that.
What about Mike Trout? The Cardinals will probably convey a level of interest without fully dunking their heads in the sweet, warm waters. Acquiring Trout, the best player in baseball by a mile, will cost money, the Blues, the Arch, the bulk of your payroll, and a piece of your soul. I kid, but the drift is clear. I don't expect the Cards to land him. I could easily see Trout just moving across town to the Dodgers.
As much as I wanted Harper, the 13 years, as they would have with Stanton, do scare me enough to stop from being enraged that he isn't here. He's played in 150+ games just twice in his seven-year career, which always made an eight-year deal the most desirable. The annual salary isn't the problem. The zero opt-outs, zero deferrals, and the complete no-trade clause is the issue. It's all in Harper's interest, and the Cardinals would be locked into him.
Like it or not, the Cardinals will be held accountable if Marcell Ozuna doesn't erupt and Fowler fizzles again this season. You can prop up Tyler O'Neill's muscles and Harrison Bader's dazzling outfield ability as high as you want, but it won't get you far if the big guys don't do their jobs. The reality is that next year, Ozuna will most likely be playing elsewhere and Fowler will be turning 34. If the Cardinals collapse and the rest of the division, as well as the Phillies, ascend, there will be fire and brimstone in St. Louis.
Passing on Harper heightens the pressure to sign Goldschmidt to an extension. It won't make it all go away, but the overall comfort will increase with a fuller dose of Goldy.
And believe it, the Cardinals did pass on Harper. Scott Boras made it no secret that the Cardinals were in need of his client's services. Everybody in St. Louis digested that as well, and it didn't matter whether you were for or against it. This was a pass.
Pro Tip: Whatever you say, don't use batting average as a reason to pass on Harper. That's so 2000, it's not even funny.
Right now, I am fine with it while trying my best to stay disappointed. Perhaps that feeling will be different in a year, or better by 2025. No one knows. That's sports for you. The script has been missing since the games began.
If this reads like a guy currently battling and tripping over himself trying to figure out how he feels about a situation, that's a dead-on read. I am pushing around this ending in every direction, hitting every bump in the road, but seeking out peace in the fact it is over.
How do you feel about Bryce Harper going to Philadelphia and not St. Louis? Were you comfortable with (probably more than) 13 years, $330 million, and zero escape?