It took until spring training began, but coveted free agent OF Bryce Harper has finally signed with his new team, the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s a 13-year deal worth $330 million, making it the biggest contract ever signed by a Major League Baseball free agent. But if you dig into the contract details, you’ll see that some parts of the deal may be surprising.
The average annual value isn’t what it could have been
The average annual value (AAV) of Harper’s deal comes out to just under $25.4 million, which is well below the AAV of contracts signed by other players this offseason. Padres 3B Manny Machado signed for a $30 million AAV with his 10-year contract, and 3B Nolan Arenado‘s eight-year extension with the Rockies netted him an AAV of $32.5 million, the highest-ever for a position player.
Harper’s contract is front-loaded with $30 million due this season, including a $20 million signing bonus, and $26 million due to Harper each season from 2020 through 2028. He earns $22 million per season for each of the last three years of the contract.
Speculation is that keeping the AAV down will help keep the Phillies’ payroll low enough so that they can make a play for OF Mike Trout if he becomes a free agent as scheduled following next season.
Harper is in it for the long-term
A common clause in many MLB free agent contracts these days is an opt-out clause, giving the player an opportunity to get out of the contract early to renegotiate with his team for more money or enter free agency for another possible big payday. Machado, for example, has an opt-out after 2023.
Bryce Harper, however, does not have any opt-outs with his 13-year contract. There are conflicting reports as to why. He may not have wanted one, or the Phillies may have refused Harper an opt-out in exchange for giving him the record-breaking guaranteed contract.
The deal also includes a full no-trade clause, which is typical of a big free agent contract like this. That doesn’t mean Harper won’t be traded, but he has to approve any trade, which gives him control over any potential landing spots if he is dealt. With the relative low AAVs in the final years of the contract, there would probably be trade interest from teams if the Phillies and Harper decide to part ways before the contract ends.
The Phillies had competition for Harper
The Phillies were considered the front-runners to land Harper throughout much of the offseason, but other teams tried to land him as well.
The Giants were the closest to the Phillies in terms of total money, offering Harper a 12-year contract worth $310 million, but the Dodgers offered Harper the highest AAV.
Reports of the Dodgers’ offer range from four or five years, with values ranging from $172 million to $215 million. The AAV offered by the Dodgers reportedly reached as high as $45 million over four years. Such a short-term deal would have allowed Harper to enter free agency again at the age of 30 or 31 when he will presumably have several prime playing years ahead of him.
The other known offer came from Harper’s previous team, the Nationals, who offered him a 10-year contract worth $300 million late last season. That offer, however, included a lot of deferred money, which the team would have been paying Harper through 2053. The contract Harper signed with the Phillies includes no deferred money.
With the 13-year contract, Bryce Harper is committed to the Phillies until his late 30s, so it will be interesting to see how he does on the field toward the end of the deal.