Being signed to a mega-deal that takes up 13 years and $330 million worth of a team’s time, it really puts a lot of pressure on the athlete to live up to this kind of once in a lifetime deal and prove that this huge investment was worth it. And as you can tell by the title of this article, said athlete is living up to his end of the bargain so far.
The much-maligned but overall positive story that is Bryce Harper has now found itself in the City of Brotherly Love, because when doesn’t Philadelphia need more tabloids to focus on their professional sports franchises. The Phillies, who were left to rot away in the dark depths of whatever hell the National League East division’s basement includes, are now seen as one of the proverbial favorites to take the divisional crown in 2019.
Adding Harper to its long shopping list of additions and subtractions this offseason, the Phillies have given their fans a lot to be excited about while cornering themselves into only a few season outcomes that can be seen as worthwhile. Starting as low as making the playoffs and going all the way up to winning the World Series, and this team has taken all of its chips now, plus asked the bank for a loan and thrown those into the mix too.
Before Harper, the Phillies were limited to the antics of its overly green Phanatic mascot and building its team to be an Atlanta Braves-lite of sorts. Relying on minor league talent to develop and then build upon that, Philadelphia struggled to build upon their earlier in the decade success that saw the likes of Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Brad Lidge, and Shane Victorino become heroes of the city overnight.
By extracting all of those pieces over time and inserting youthful pieces like Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera, the Phillies had interesting but not good enough pieces to build around for the coming years – and then they found how much money talks.
Adding Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Harper, just to name the big guns, this offseason, and overnight this team went from being pegged as a typical NL fourth-place franchise (the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks of the world) to shooting up the charts and being named a hot selection to win the NL crown and represent the league in the World Series.
All of this now surrounds Bryce Harper in every ball he fields, strikeout he takes, helmet he tosses and home run he hits, whether he likes it or not. Times were different while on the Washington Nationals, at least in the beginning.
Going from high draft pick to minor league sensation in what seemed a day, Nationals fans immediately began counting down until he would join the big-league squad in the nation’s capital, hopefully making the true fans forget about their Montreal days and focus on who to choose in the President’s race.
Becoming such a star to the hearts of Nationals fans, that role was taken away almost as soon as it was given to him, due to the team oozing with potential, yet never really grasping it and taking advantage of it. High ceiling, enormous expectations and a team riddled with injuries, and the Nationals never became who everyone pegged them to be, struggling in the playoffs and making themselves look like a regular season franchise who all of a sudden forgot how to play baseball when the calendar flipped to October.
Plagued by these expectations, the decision seemed quite easy this offseason for Harper and his crew, as it was almost certain he would be leaving after turning down a few overtures for extensions during the regular season by the Washington front office. Losing him for no compensation at all can be hard, but that money was put to good use not long after, as the team brought in Patrick Corbin to keep stacking upon their riches of pitching that Harper was never able to back up enough to keep fans pleased.
So now Harper is in Philly, and the expectations are again high for him and his team, which can be seen as stronger in certain areas (hitting, more hitting, hitting again) but weaker in others (anything to do with pitching outside of Nola) than during his time with the Nats. Which means that, while things have changed, they also have stayed the same.
For a Phillies team that currently sits in first place by 1.5 games over the Braves, they need to try and put as much of a cushion in between themselves and everyone else as soon as they can, because each team hits a wall at random points during the season, the hope is that it never costs a playoff spot. With how loaded their rivals are in 2019, getting out to an early lead will make that abrupt fall from the face of the Earth a bit easier to deal with.
Bryce Harper has not been a big-time catalyst for this team in getting into first place, as his .221 average across 43 games and 154 at-bats is quite below his career average. Seven home runs, 25 RBI’s and 58 strikeouts are ugly compared to the type of player he usually is, a far cry from what he is now.
After having won the opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, they proceeded to drop the final three games of the four-game set, getting blown out and allowing offensive outbursts to a team that has had their pitching staff get rocked from time to time and their hitters have slumps to begin the year. The Brewers are a good team that fell one game short of the Series last season, so it is not to say they are bad, but the Phillies should have put up much more of a fight than they did.
For Harper and company, it is quite simple what needs to happen, which is figuring out whatever offensive woes are plaguing him and fixing them sooner rather than later. This team goes as he goes, and it has surprisingly been better than expected with his performance to begin 2019, but that cannot continue.
To even be in playoff contention come July, Bryce Harper needs to prove, yet again, that the money and priority he was given by a team are justified and not just built upon faulty promises and lofty goals, which the Nationals know all too well about.