Phillies Spring Training 2024

Harper talks contract, first base, Merrifield, Hoskins and more

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Phillies position players trickled into camp over the weekend and that included a fella by the name of Bryce Harper, who spoke to reporters in Clearwater about a wide range of topics including his contract, his position, his newest teammate, Rhys Hoskins' departure and more.

Contract negotiations

Harper and agent Scott Boras have made clear that Harper is looking for a contract extension. Harper wants to play into his 40s with the Phillies. This will be his age-31 season and he has eight years remaining on the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed prior to 2019.

"Yeah, I think there's been communication there between myself and (president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski) and also Scott and Dave as well," Harper said. "Obviously, I want to be here for a long time and we'll see what happens.

"I want to be here for a long time and playing into my 40s. That's the biggest thing for me so I wanted to get that done."

Harper's $330 million contract was the largest total value in MLB history when he signed it, but Mike Trout beat it by nearly $100 million less than a month later, and now Harper's contract ranks eighth all-time in total value behind Shohei Ohtani, Trout, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado (who earned more via an opt-out), Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr.

In terms of annual average value, which is the salary number applied to the luxury tax, Harper's $25.38M is 46th all-time, less per year than guys like Xander Bogaerts, Kris Bryant and Bobby Witt Jr.

The Phillies' more immediate concern is re-signing their ace, Zack Wheeler, who is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season.

"I understand there's other guys to take care of," Harper said. "Understanding that Wheels is a big one for us right now, but contract negotiations can happen throughout the season. We'll see what Scott and Dave can come up with."

Taking over first base

The Phillies charted their path early in the offseason when they determined Harper would play first base moving forward, thereby making Hoskins more expendable.

Learning the position on-the-fly last season as he rehabbed his surgically repaired elbow, Harper didn't just handle himself well at first base, he played very well defensively. He figures to only improve at the position with more experience and a full spring training of work in games and with infield coach Bobby Dickerson.

Harper does not think he'll return to right field.

"I don't think I'll move back out to right, I don't," he said, "but never say never.

"I wanted them to know that I was on board with anything that they wanted to do. If that was right field, if that was first base, I told them that. I think, as a collective, they said first base is where we want you and I said OK, I'll do everything I can to be there and that's what I want to do."

Harper said he didn't enter that meeting with Dombrowski with an inclination toward first base, that it was more of a group decision.

"Not too much my preference," he said. "At the same time, we had a pretty good conversation, me and Dombo. We sat down and he said this would be great for our organization and I said OK."

Whit Merrifield joins the club

New Phillie Whit Merrifield was in camp Monday and will wear No. 9. The Phillies agreed to a one-year deal Friday with the three-time All-Star.

Merrifield led the majors in hits and stolen bases in 2018, led the majors in hits and triples in 2019 and led the American League in doubles and steals in 2021.

"Really excited about Whit," Harper said. "We talked about two weeks ago, me and him, had some conversation about Philly and things like that. I think he's really excited to be here, he's going to be great for us. He's had such a great career, even when he was younger at South Carolina, two-time National Champ, he knows how to win, he's a leader.

"He's a little bit of a veteran guy, 35 years old, so I think he'll bring that into our clubhouse as well. We're all looking forward to seeing him. He's Top 3 in hits since 2017 and just a really good player all-around. He's going to be a gamer for us and I think Philadelphia should be really excited to get this guy."

Saying bye to Rhys

The Phillies re-signed their longest-tenured pitcher, Aaron Nola, the week before Thanksgiving, but it was evident by then that there wasn't room for their longest-tenured position player, Hoskins. With Harper at first base and Kyle Schwarber locked in as the designated hitter, the opportunities for Hoskins just weren't there, not unless the Phillies sacrificed defense for offense, which also would have meant less playing time for one or both of Brandon Marsh and Johan Rojas.

Hoskins moved on to the Brewers, a team that needs his power badly. If he stays healthy, he could lead his new club in homers and RBI.

"Seeing him go is definitely tough but as a career, I wish him the best,” Harper said. “We all want to see him do great things in Milwaukee and he deserves what he got. We're excited for him.

"Anytime you get a player like that, a franchise player who goes somewhere else, one of the guys that was loved in the clubhouse, loved in the community, he's done so much for the city of Philadelphia. Him and (wife) Jayme are two great individuals."

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