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Agent of Bryce Harper confirms interest in contract extension

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After some speculation over the last few weeks that Bryce Harper was interested in extending his deal with the Phillies, agent Scott Boras confirmed the matter when speaking with reporters (including Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer) at the winter meetings.

“Bryce has let me know that he wants to work out an extension so that he knows that he’s going to be there for the remainder of his career….Apart from my advice, he goes, ’I just want to go and make sure that I can recruit players to Philadelphia.  I want the fans in Philadelphia to know that I’m going to be there for the duration and that I’m committed.’  I think he’s been an important voice for them to attract major free agents and other players,” Boras said.

Harper is still not even halfway through the 13-year, $330M contract he signed with the Phillies as a free agent during the 2018-19 offseason.  At the time of the signing, Harper’s contract was the most expensive in baseball history, and it still ranks seventh all-time in terms of total dollars.  In terms of average annual value, however, Harper’s deal doesn’t crack the top 40 all-time, as he is making a relatively (in a very broad sense) modest AAV of just under $25.4M per season.  In terms of actual dollars, Harper is still owed $196M through the 2031 season.

The deal was a straight 13-year pact without any opt-outs or club option years, which was by design. At the time of the signing, Harper stressed that he wanted long-term security for the rest of his career, so he could focus on baseball without having to worry about any future changes of scenery or upcoming trips to free agency.  This dovetailed with the Phillies’ desire to add premium talent while also keeping costs (again) relatively in check in terms of the luxury tax.  With Harper’s money spread out over a longer term, that $25.4M AAV puts less of a hit on Philadelphia’s annual luxury tax bill.

Since the Phillies have exceeded the tax threshold in each of the last two seasons, the AAV benefits of Harper’s contract are perhaps even more important to the Phillies now than it was at the time of Harper’s signing in February 2019. On paper, this gives the team little reason to consider extending a player who is already locked up through his age-38 season.  Even if the Phils are open to indeed retaining Harper into his 40s, it makes sense for the club to wait at least a few more years to monitor any signs of decline in Harper’s play.

In addition, Harper is also coming off two seasons hampered by injuries and defensive limitations, as a UCL tear and subsequent Tommy John surgery limited Harper to DH-only duty and then some time at first base over the 2022-23 seasons.  Though Harper is now apparently healthy enough to resume right-field duties, Philadelphia will instead use him as the everyday first baseman in at least 2024, allowing the Phillies to both address a first-base need and get more at-bats in the outfield for such players as Brandon Marsh, Johan Rojas, and Cristian Pache.

Even with these injuries clouding the picture, Harper is still unquestionably a force at the plate.  He has hit .284/.395/.536 over 2,497 plate appearances in a Phillies uniform, as well as a whopping 1.137 OPS over 126 PA in the postseason. Harper was the NL MVP in 2021, and he helped lead the Phillies to end their playoff drought with a World Series appearance in 2022, and then a trip to Game 7 of the NLCS in 2023.

If Harper was a free agent now entering his age-31 season, would he land more than eight years and $196M? The answer certainly would appear to be yes, as Harper’s mighty bat might very well outweigh any concerns over his long-term health or defensive future.  Speculatively, if security is still Harper’s focus more than pure money, the Phillies could float an extension that adds a couple of years to Harper’s contract at a lesser AAV, or perhaps a restructured deal entirely that lengthens the contract but lowers the Phils’ annual tax hit even further.

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