How Bryce Harper landed on the Philadelphia Phillies

Hole up together for long enough, cover the same ground often enough, watch the private jets and the sales pitches come and go, feel your brain go a little bleary, and maybe you just run out of things to talk about.

So it was just a few nights ago in Las Vegas when over dinner, Bryce Harper started passing his phone around. On it, there were pictures of him as a boy holding bats and looking hitter-ish and standing with his family. Not before baseball, because there was never a before baseball, but before he was the Bryce Harper, and long before the Philadelphia Phillies would favor him with the largest contract in American professional sports.

Scott Boras, his agent, was at the table, as were Mike Fiore and Bill Gluvna, key members of the Boras team. Kayla Harper, Bryce’s wife, was there. Nearing the end of a four-month odyssey, they chuckled at the images of young Bryce — smiling and happy, mean-mugging, lost in thought and, for a period, actually kind of chunky.

“The forearms!” Boras nearly shouted. “Those are man forearms! On a 7-year-old!”

Bryce got to telling stories about his dad coming home from work and the two of them dragging rebar around the property, then going off to Little League games, where Bryce would hit five or six tracers and pitch an inning or two, then come the weekend, fly to, maybe, California for a tournament there. How it never really stopped, the baseball, how he never wanted it to stop. But Boras couldn’t get over the forearms.

“You’re like Bochy with a helmet on!”

Days later, on Thursday morning, Harper had made his choice. It’d be the Phillies. The baseball would not stop for at least another 13 years, which, according to Boras, was the final and most critical element in a four-month free-agent tussle that was part-fight and part-negotiation, part-frenzy and part-endurance. And while the average annual value of the contract — just north of $25 million — represents a minor raise over what he made in his final season as a Washington National, what became important to Harper, Boras said, was longevity. Was stability. Way more baseball. So much of it that, to a 26-year-old, 13 years would seem forever away.

21 PHOTOS
Bryce Harper through his career
See Gallery
Bryce Harper through his career
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper demonstrates his batting stance with a teammate during a workout before a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees in Tampa, Florida, March 16, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Nineteen-year-old Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (L) greets a fan on the sidelines during warm-ups as he prepares to make his major-league debut playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in their MLB National League baseball game in Los Angeles, California April 28, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals reacts after getting out with two men on base in the 8th inning against the New York Mets in Washington June 7, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Washington Nationals Bryce Harper celebrates after scoring the go ahead home run against the Boston Red Sox during the ninth inning of Inter League MLB baseball action at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts June 10, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper (R) yells after striking out against New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte (not pictured) during the fifth inning of their MLB interleague baseball game in Washington June 16, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Washington Nationals batter Bryce Harper waits to hit against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning during their MLB interleague baseball game in Baltimore, Maryland, June 24, 2012. REUTERS/Patrick Smith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (R) congratulates teammate Ryan Zimmerman after the Nationals defeated the Miami Marlins in their MLB National League baseball game in Miami, Florida July 13, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper steps into the batter's box against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning of their MLB National League baseball game in Washington, July 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Oct 3, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) is hit with a pitch during the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Washington Nationals won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper watches his two RBI home run during the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Washington Nationals won 9-1. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) celebrates his solo home run during the tenth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Nationals 3-2 in 10 innings. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
May 26, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 12, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; National League outfielder Bryce Harper (34) of the Washington Nationals before the 2016 MLB All Star Game at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 25, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits a two run double in the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park. Washington Nationals deafened Baltimore Orioles 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Baseball player Bryce Harper arrives at the 2016 American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Apr 10, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) hustles to third against the St. Louis Cardinals during the eighth inning at Nationals Park. The Nationals won 14-6. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 9, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits an RBI single against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jul 26, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) is ejected from the game by home plate umpire Chris Segal (96) after arguing a called third strike in the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park. The Nationals won 8-5. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 26, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) listens during a press conference to unveil the official logo for the 2018 All-Star Game prior to the game between the Washington Nationals and the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
WASHINGTON, D.C. - SEPTEMBER 25: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals bats during a game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on Tuesday, September 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 30: Washington Nationals Bryce Harper (34) leaves the dugout following their loss to the Colorado Rockies in their last game of the 2018 season at Coors Field. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

This sort of outcome will be autopsied to the final nickel, of course, because it’s what we do, because we become obsessed with finding the flaw in a thing that, maybe, just is. So someone draws a happy smile over it, someone else pounds a keyboard in outrage, and the fact is Bryce Harper has a place to play and enough money to cover the dinner check. Did the market twist? Sure. Was there ever going to be $400 million out there? Dunno, but apparently not. Is the same system, the one Boras these days calls, “the beast,” that buries the middle class in unbecoming read-outs, also tugging at the best players among them? Maybe. Four-month free-agency slogs, even when the first number turns out to be a 3, probably don’t reflect a wholly healthy free market or, for that matter, sport.

That it wound back to Philadelphia, where the Phillies had for a half-year been the favorites, required the final hours before Harper would commit. According to Boras, Harper stipulated that there be no opt-outs in the contract, which floored Boras.

“But I invented those!” he’d said with a laugh.

He required no-trade protection. What Harper desired was an end-to-end experience on a team determined to win in a ballpark that would suit his game, all on a contract that would say to the next free agent, the coming generation of potential Phillies, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. The baseball won’t stop.”

There were offers of as much as $43 million per season, but not for long enough. There were other 10-year offers, Boras said. None fit, at least not in the moment, and while rumors spread that Harper wasn’t keen on Philly or he’d have signed already, Boras insisted that what Harper waited on was not less Philly, but more. Boras wouldn’t say it, but he surely believed the market was not as kind as he thought it might be, and the analytics that drive any signings but particularly those on the high end, would not necessarily favor Harper over, say, Manny Machado. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were not crawling over one another for a piece of Harper. The Los Angeles Dodgers jumped in late with an idea that would dust the Phillies’ average annual value but would not come close, maybe barely within a decade, in term.

33 PHOTOS
MLB players who have switched teams over the 2018-19 offseason
See Gallery
MLB players who have switched teams over the 2018-19 offseason

INF Manny Machado

Left the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency to sign with the San Diego Padres

(Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

OF Bryce Harper

Left the Washington Nationals in free agency to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

OF Yasiel Puig

Traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds

(Photo by Keith Birmingham/Digital First Media/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

2B DJ LeMahieu

Left the Colorado Rockies in free agency to sign with the New York Yankees

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

OF Matt Kemp

Traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

RHP Joe Kelly

Left the Boston Red Sox in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

C Yasmani Grandal

Left the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

2B Robinson Cano

Traded to the New York Mets from the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

RHP Edwin Diaz

Traded to the New York Mets from the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

RHP Jeurys Familia

Left the Oakland Athletics in free agency to sign with the New York Mets

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

RF Andrew McCutchen

Left the New York Yankees in free agency to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

INF Jed Lowrie

Left the Oakland A's in free agency to sign with the New York Mets

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

RHP Ivan Nova

Traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Chicago White Sox

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

LHP Patrick Corbin

Left the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency to sign with the Washington Nationals

(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

1B Paul Goldschmidt

Traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the St. Louis Cardinals

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

SS Jean Segura

Traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion

Traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

1B Justin Bour

Left the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Angels

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

1B Yonder Alonso

Traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago White Sox

(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

OF Michael Brantley

Left the Cleveland Indians in free agency to sign with the Houston Astros

(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

RHP Matt Harvey

Left the Cincinnati Reds in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Angels

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

RHP Anibal Sanchez

Left the Atlanta Braves in free agency to sign with the Washington Nationals

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

DH Nelson Cruz

Left the Seattle Mariners in free agency to sign with the Minnesota Twins

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

RHP Kendall Graveman

Left the Oakland A's in free agency to sign with the Chicago Cubs

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

RHP Charlie Morton

Left the Houston Astros in free agency to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

Outfielder Domingo Santana

Traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Infielder Daniel Murphy

Left the Chicago Cubs in free agency to sign with the Colorado Rockies

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

RHP Joakim Soria

Left the Milwaukee Brewers in free agency to sign with the Oakland A's

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

RHP Andrew Miller

Left the Cleveland Indians in free agency to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

2B Jurickson Profar

Traded by the Texas Rangers to the Oakland A's

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

RHP Trevor Cahill

Left the Oakland A's in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Angels

(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

2B Brian Dozier

Left the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency to sign with the Washington Nationals

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

RHP Shelby Miller

Left the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency to sign with the Texas Rangers

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

So pitchers and catchers arrived. Then the position players. The games started. Teams Boras hadn’t yet heard from or who’d been quiet for months suddenly expressed their interest in Harper, so it was time to get acquainted again. And in a restaurant in Vegas, Bryce Harper, team-less, was getting goofed on for having puffy forearms 20 years ago.

“He knew what he wanted,” Boras said. “And I’ll tell you one thing, it was interesting. He was always about a contract this long. He wants to build a team. He wants to commit to that city. He wants an ideal setting for him to get done what he wanted to get done.

“What he said was, ‘I want every player to know I’m recruiting them to my team. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to win because players will know I’m there.’ ”

Philadelphians will celebrate, as much for the ballplayer who’ll make their team better as for what him picking them means. After too many dark Octobers, they are baseball-relevant again. Harper will make a fine first impression. Citizens Bank Park should be his kind of place. It’s a good thing, for now. The questions over how one rates $330 million for 13 years ahead of $300 million for 10 (as the Washington Nationals reportedly offered, about a third of that deferred) will fade, because what’s it matter in the end?

Here’s the thing about 13 years: It’s like forever. Apparently, that’s what Bryce Harper really wanted. It’s certainly what he got.

Something like forever.

The NFL combine’s biggest question is answered
Ole Miss fans trash court after controversial loss
Westbrook lectures kid, requests protection from fans
Haynes: LeBron has a message for the haters

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.