When the Phillies signed Bryce Harper in February of 2019, his $330 million contract was the largest in Major League History. That remained true for less than a month.
The Angels extended Mike Trout three weeks later, bringing his contract to a total value of $426.5 million. In the years since, Harper's contract has been pushed down the list and is now seventh-richest all-time, behind Trout, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr.
Eight years and $196 million remain on Harper's deal, but he has already told the Phillies he's interested in signing an extension, his agent Scott Boras said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.
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"Bryce has certainly expressed to them that he wants to end his career in Philadelphia," Boras told reporters in Nashville.
"He's been there five years, he's kind of shown them who he is and why he's a franchise player. I think he's changed the player community, how players view Philadelphia, and so consequently, he's come in and said, 'This is something I want off my mind. I want to play well beyond the contract that I have.
"He came there for the fans. Apart from my advice, he goes, 'I just want to go and make sure I can recruit players in Philadelphia, let the fans in Philadelphia know that I'm going to be there for the duration, that I am committed.' I think he's been an important voice for them to attract major free agents."
Beyond being an effective recruiter, the structure of Harper's contract has better positioned the Phillies to keep spending. His $330 million is stretched out over 13 years for an average annual value of $25.38 million. That number, the average, is the one used for each player when MLB calculates teams' luxury tax payrolls.
Harper's average of $25.38 million is 41st all-time, a rank that now looks absurdly low given his value to the Phillies on and off the field.
There certainly seems to be interest on the team's part in making him happy and keeping him around even longer than initially expected. After Harper's dramatic eighth-inning home run in Game 5 of the 2022 NLCS pushed the Phillies past the Padres and into the World Series, team owner John Middleton remarked that the two-time MVP might be underpaid.
"I'm thinking that I underpaid him," Middleton said that night. "I told him that tonight. I told that to Scott Boras a while ago."
Unlike so many of the high-priced free agents of recent offseasons, Harper specifically did not want any opt-outs in his contract. He had several reasons. After being asked for years in Washington about his future plans, he didn't want to have to answer those questions anymore. Building something up was also important to him. He wanted to build a winner in Philadelphia rather than become a mercenary chasing a ring.
Five years in, Harper has accomplished most of these goals. The Phillies have turned into a legitimate contender. They've added piece after piece after piece — Zack Wheeler, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, the re-signings of J.T. Realmuto and Aaron Nola.
In Harper's first year as a Phillie, he drove in a career-high 114 runs. In his third, he won MVP. In his fourth, the team fell two wins short of a World Series. In his fifth, he continued to build on a legendary playoff resume.
The only thing missing is the biggest thing, a championship.
"He has a lot of goals that he wants to achieve in Philadelphia," Boras said. "Obviously he's a Hall of Fame-type talent. He wants to keep his personal pursuits in the game there."
This may be the offseason to do it. The Phillies' top priority was re-signing Nola and that deal was completed before Thanksgiving. Their remaining needs — bullpen help, potentially another versatile bat capable of playing the outfield — are not dire and might not be filled quickly. Dombrowski has described the Phillies' current position as open. They're surveying the free-agent and trade markets to see what fits and what might be worthwhile.
Thus, they have some time to figure out the details of a new deal for Harper. The more pressing contract to sort out would be Wheeler's since he is a free agent after 2024, but there have been indications that Wheeler's side could be more interested in reaching the open market where there would be competitive bidding for his services. Wheeler, too, looks underpaid in retrospect.