Sunday, June 2, 2019
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
This began as a speculative piece on final destination of Bryce Harper, baseball’s best and, after months of rumors and now weeks into spring training, oddly homeless free agent. It was being written, literally, as news broke of him inking an unthinkably long 13-year, $330M contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. So scratch the speculation. Now we know. All the better.
“Harper 2018”, which turned into “Harper 2018-19”, was supposed to be the greatest free agent courting in the history of North American sports. Maybe global sports. Or intergalactic sports. That might not be an exaggeration from Harper and super-agent Scott Boras’s perspective.
Harper peddling his wares across an adoring MLB landscape has been an unfolding story for years. From the time he was drafted by the Nationals in 2010, the question was whether the phenom from Las Vegas, who grew up rooting for blueblood teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Duke basketball, and who idolized Yankees great Mickey Mantle, would outgrow the still regenerating baseball town of Washington, D.C.
Harper just always seemed destined for the brighter baseball lights in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. But the Yankees seemed an awkward fit with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, two slugging corner outfielders, already in place. The Chicago Cubs, employers of Harper’s BFF Kris Bryant, were considered a likely landing spot, but the Cubbies’ bloated payroll prevented serious pursuit. So Los Angeles then? The Dodgers were in the mix, having shipped Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp – two pricey outfielders – to Cincinnati. Washington was always a player too and allegedly offered a 10-year, $300M contract last fall; but neither party ever felt committed to a forever deal.
In the end, Philly won. I guess they won – these mega-deals rarely work out well (see: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and the aforementioned Stanton). Money aside…thirteen years? Where were you in 2006? The County Times was two long years from “A View From The Bleachers” appearing in its pages for the first time and changing the course of the paper’s future forever. For good? For ill? Alas, the final determination is still pending…
Harper landing in Philly was quite an adventure. The length of his free agency was unexpectedly long. Undoubtedly to Harper’s chagrin, the suiters were too few and dominated by B-listers. Harper did ultimately get the desired long-term deal and broke the MLB record for biggest contract ever (the previous record was Stanton’s $325M deal), but his average annual salary was below expectations.
All things considered, the process was confusing. If reports of Washington’s offer last fall are true, Harper could have remained a Nat for more annually ($30M) and only $30M less overall. And if Harper really wanted to play for the Phillies, the one team seriously in play throughout, couldn’t he have signed there months ago? Or were the terms not sweet enough? Did Harper need to feel like he bled every last dime and every last committed season from all bidders before finally settling for Philly?
These are things we’ll never know. Regardless, it must have worn on Harper. A glimpse of the burden may have leaked through when he mistakenly said in his first press conference with the Phillies that he wanted to “bring a title back to D.C.” Cringe…
I don’t begrudge Harper, the Nationals or any other team that pursued him. Harper putting pen to paper was a massive pivot point for him and multiple franchises. Put the silly money and pomp and circumstance aside and you have a relatable human moment - a massive career decision layered with location, opportunity, salary, benefits and family considerations. Harper opted to leave behind what he built in Washington and to start over in Philadelphia. It was decision almost certainly reached after great consternation. In the end, I hope he’s at peace and wish him well as he continues a shared endeavor: the pursuit happiness.
Harper’s ultimate signing prompted many emotions – frustration, disappointment, excitement, anticipation – but ultimately, the one likely felt most acutely by all vested in this process – Harper, the fans and the teams – is relief. Now it’s time to just play ball. Finally.