The San Francisco Giants’ pursuit of free agent outfielder Bryce Harper has ended, just not in the way that the club or its fans would have hoped.
The 26-year old slugger, a six-time All-Star and Home Run Derby champion, with 184 career home runs in his seven big league seasons, has signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for a Major League-record 13 years and $330 million, according to multiple reports, first by John Heyman of the MLB Network.
The deal, following close on the heals of infielder Manny Machado’s 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres last week, reportedly includes no opt-outs, and a full no-trade clause, and keeps Harper out of the National League West, where San Francisco is in the first phases of what’s thought to be a bottom-up rebuild.
The deal surpasses the 13-year, $325 million extension signed by Giancarlo Stanton with the Miami Marlins, before he was dealt to the New York Yankees.
The Giants and Harper, as late as Tuesday, had reportedly discussed a 10-year deal, according to Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News and Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area. They were not in the discussion early in the offseason (which favored the Phillies and the Chicago White Sox), but engaged Harper just before spring training.
Like the Phillies, San Francisco flew out twice to meet with Harper, with managing general partner Larry Baer and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi making the trip twice, and retiring manager Bruce Bochy once. The first meeting was scheduled for two hours, but went four.
Harper, the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year and 2015 NL MVP, had also been engaged with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, who already had a glut of outfielders after signing A.J. Pollock to a four-year, $60 million deal.
Agent Scott Boras, who represents Harper, reportedly had some sort of offer early on in the offseason from the Phillies, but then began his process of finding other potential buyers. New York Post baseball columnist Joel Sherman, who spoke to Boras on Thursday, reported that the super-agent said, “To get great length, you have to give something up. Frankly the Philly ballpark had a lot to do with it. Bryce hits great there. And ownership (John Middleton) flew out twice (to Vegas) and really went through the hoops to show how much he wanted Bryce.”
Middleton spent two days with Harper in las Vegas, on Feb. 22 and 23.
Harper has a career .930 OPS and a .564 slugging percentage at Citizen’s Bank Park, the highest of any ballpark in which he has at least 100 plate appearances (he has 207 there). He’s hit just .164 at Oracle Park and slugged .284 there in 19 games (85 plate appearances).
Boras told Sherman that he had average annual values of $45 million on the table, on shorter term deals.
“We had a full buffet,” he said.
As far as the Phillies are concerned, the deal is actually team-friendly. It locks one of the game’s hottest young talents into a club that is in the process of developing its own home-grown talent, but needs a star around which that talent can crystalize. The (relatively) low average annual value of $25.4 million per year (not that much more than Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252m deal with Texas in 2001) works out in several ways.
First, it won’t be that much, speaking in terms of the AAV ecosystem that’s going to emerge in the back half of the contract, so it allows the Phillies to trade him without much hemming and hawing about finding a partner who can take on his salary. Second, even if he’s unable to play the outfield in the back half of the deal, when he’ll be in his late-30s, at that point, it’s likely that the National League will have adopted the designated hitter, and his bat will still be able to play.
Philadelphia is closer to a contender than the Giants, and Harper could get them over that hump. San Francisco can now move ahead with what is expected to be a three-year rebuild under the hand of Zaidi, who, like his previous boss in Los Angeles, Andrew Friedman, is loathe to hand out deals of longer than five years, due to the poor history of such long-term deals.
Zaidi currently has a quartet of young outfielders who got big league experience last season, including potential everyday center fielder Steven Duggar, coming off shoulder surgery. He also has slugging Mac Williamson coming off a season lost to a severe concussion, as well as power hitting Chris Shaw and former top prospect Austin Slater. All four have, at one time or another, been among San Francisco’s top 15 prospects.
Zaidi signed several veteran pitchers to one-year deals this offseason, bringing back left-hander Derek Holland and adding Drew Pomeranz and Pat Venditte, in order to shore up a young rotation that may or may not have the services of Jeff Samardzija after an injury-marred 2018, and that won’t likely have the services of Johnny Cueto until very late, if at all, due to Tommy John Surgery.
There was certainly mutual interest between the Giants and Harper’s camp, but Boras was, according to sources, likely banking on the Giants’ brass seeing the gate value of Harper, while Zaidi’s more micro-level approach was probably more concerned with the fact that few deals longer than seven hears have panned out well for the original clubs.
Zaidi prefers to build teams from the inside out using smaller, under-the-radar moves for undervalued or underdeveloped assets, and building the farm system, rather than big, long-term, expensive free agent acquisitions.
At this point, committing such a huge salary to any one player for as long as Philadelphia was willing to (and the Giants were not) would have locked up precious resources and cost the club draft picks and money in the international signing bonuses — both assets that Zaidi treasures. Not having that big a contract on the book also keeps something that Zaidi wants: Flexibility.
This offseason, Zaidi has stated that he wanted to add another outfield piece or two for the big league roster. He acquired outfielder John Andreoli only to designated him for assignment. He signed center fielder Alexander Suarez to a minor league deal, signed outfielder Carlos Cuevas to a minor league deal, claimed center fielder Mike Gerber off waivers then sent him to Sacramento, claimed Rule 5 pick Drew Ferguson, invited Henry Ramos to spring training on a minor league deal and did the same with Anthony Garcia. Most recently, Zaidi added potential big league left fielders Gerardo Parra and Cameron Maybin on minor league deals, inviting both to spring training.
These incremental moves are what Zaidi and Friedman used to build the Dodgers from a contender with a ceiling into a back-to-back pennant winner.