The Bryce Harper sweepstakes came to a close when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies late last week. Nearly everyone across Major League Baseball expected him to sign a $300 million deal, despite reports that teams were looking at short-term contracts. The biggest surprise came with the Phillies’ 13-year commitment.
The Phillies signed Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract that will keep him in Philadelphia until age 39. It’s a stunning contract on multiple levels. Unfortunately, it’s also a huge mistake.
Harper’s numbers don’t justify the contract. The ugly truth is that Bryce Harper is one of the most overrated players in the game.
Harper has hit over .274 only twice in his career. He tallied over 144 hits just once in his first seven years. Even his home run numbers are surprisingly low. Harper has hit 30 or more home runs only twice in his career. He also drove in 100 run just once with Washington.
Yet somehow Harper continues to earn appearances in the All-Star Game. He is still considered to be one of the best in the game. The numbers simply do not show it. The reality is Harper has produced only one dominant year in his career.
Bryce Harper hit 42 home runs, 38 doubles, and batted .330 during his 2015 campaign. During that season, he also compiled a league-leading 118 runs scored with a .460 on base percentage (OBP), .649 slugging percentage (SLG). Since that MVP season, Harper has batted under .250 in two of three seasons, with his solid OBP numbers serving as his saving grace. The numbers don’t lie. Philadelphia’s front office overvalued Harper.
The long commitment
The problem with Harper’s contract isn’t only the lack of production justifying the contract. It’s the length. The Phillies committed $330 million to a player that has exhibited a lack of character and maturity on the field. It’s easy to chalk up his behavior to youth, but there are several other young stars in MLB that stay out of trouble.
Do we need a reminder of him getting choked by former teammate Jonathan Papelbon? What about him getting ejected from a game for going out of his way to taunt and cuss out an umpire? Oh, and who can forget the “Where’s my ring?” comment. Time and time again, Harper has constantly cast himself in a poor light.
Several immature players have graced MLB diamonds over the years. That’s not a big deal. It’s only an issue now because the Phillies just invested $330 million into a player with a history of causing drama for his franchise. The Phillies guaranteed that money; Philadelphia cannot turn back. The 13-year commitment to Harper binds the Phillies to an underperforming, highly-volatile outfielder, who may never reach the potential he flashed in 2015.
The potential saving grace
There is one positive to Harper’s deal. The Phillies spread out his salary almost equally throughout much of the contract’s duration. It’s even slightly front-loaded with a drop in adjusted annual salary from $27.5 to $23.5 million during the last three years of his contract. Harper’s balanced deal should help the Phillies in case their new star fails to live up to his deal. It also helps the Phillies lessen the risk they are taking.
Look at the Angels’ Mike Trout. He has two seasons left on his deal, but he’s already making more money per season than Harper ever will. The Angels will pay Trout $34 million per season over the next two years. Whoever signs Trout following the 2021 season will likely pay him more, probably closer to $40 million per year. Most, if not all, of that entire salary will be guaranteed. That’s a huge risk.
The Angels know a thing or two about risk. Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million contract that is an albatross to the Los Angeles payroll today. He failed to live up to his contract and left the Angels on the hook for a back-loaded deal that will drain their budget of $87 million over the next three years.
Philadelphia’s deal with Harper doesn’t eliminate the risk of failure, but it will not be as crippling as the Pujols deal has been for the Angels. Nonetheless, $330 million is still a huge commitment to a player that has never lived up to his potential.
What’s done is done
If Bryce Harper fails in Philadelphia, the franchise will face the music over signing a player that virtually every general manager in the league knew comes with a warning label. Maybe I’ll eat my words in 13 years, but Phillies fans shouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat of Pujols’s tenure with the Angels – complete disappointment.