HomeOther Philly SportsAll the Buzz About Bryce Harper's Contract Extension: What Does It Mean?

All the Buzz About Bryce Harper’s Contract Extension: What Does It Mean?

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The question, however, is why on earth the Phillies would entertain such a possibility. They already have Harper under team control through the prime of his career. It’s practically impossible to estimate how valuable he’ll be in 2032, but suffice it to say, the aging curve isn’t on his side.

Over the last 15 years, only 15 players age 39 or older have qualified for the batting title. Only seven were above-average offensive contributors. Only six were worth more than two Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs: Nelson Cruz (twice), David Ortiz (twice), Carlos Beltrán, and Alex Rodriguez.

Without the playing time minimum, three more players age 39-plus have crossed that 2.0 WAR threshold: Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, and Jim Edmonds.

If you increase the age range to 40-plus, only Cruz, Ortiz, Jones, and Edmonds make the cut. Increase it by one more year, and the only player with a two-win season in the last thirty years is Barry Bonds.

Simply put, it’s incredibly difficult to be an above-average regular after 40 years of wear and tear on the body. That’s not to say older hitters can’t be valuable role players, but even that is rare, especially for a first baseman/DH. In the last 15 years, only 12 different players (across 17 individual seasons) have provided above-average offense (wRC+ over 100, min. 200 PA) at age 39 or older:

Season Player G PA HR wRC+ WAR

Bryce Harper is a future Hall of Famer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name on a list like this one day. Even so, there’s no reason for the Phillies to spend extra money today just to secure Harper for his age-39 season and beyond. If he remains productive and wants to prolong his career closer to the end of his current deal – let’s say in 2030 – that’s when an extension might make more sense.

But wait!

There might be some financial incentive for the Phillies to shock the baseball world and extend Harper after all.

It’s All About the Money

First and foremost, we’re talking about the luxury tax here. Harper’s contract is already well-designed for luxury tax purposes. His $27.3 million AAV accounted for just over 10% of the team’s luxury tax payroll last season; that’s practically nothing for a superstar of his level.

That said, if the Phillies extend him for another three years or so, they could bring down the luxury tax hit even further. Let’s say the two sides agree on a new 11-year, $248 million deal (canceling out the eight years and $218 million remaining on his current contract). That guarantees Harper an extra $30 million – equivalent to $10 million a year from ages 39 to 41 – and it would bring his annual average salary down to $22.5 million.

It’s possible the commissioner’s office would veto such a deal; they have stepped in before to prevent luxury tax manipulation. However, a long-term deal that runs through a player’s age-41 season is hardly unprecedented, and it would be hard to disagree that Harper will be worth at least $248 million over the next 11 years.

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