Bryce Harper, a National League MVP at 23, is a free agent at 26, peddling his services in an industry that’s grown to nearly $11 billion in annual revenues. His combination of skills, age and marketing cachet make him an excellent fit for any major league franchise.
Particularly the Philadelphia Phillies.
Harper, who has 184 career home runs and a lifetime .900 OPS, rejected a 10-year, $300 million contract offer from the Nationals in September, and is a good bet to set a new standard for the most lucrative contract in North American sports history.
It may take weeks for that process to play out. In the meantime, USA TODAY Sports will examine why every team could use Harper’s services – some more than others, certainly some better-equipped to procure them.
A case for Harper and the Phillies joining forces:
Install Harper in right field for at least the next five years and enjoy the production – he has a .965 OPS in 50 career games at Citizens Bank Park and would be moving full-time to a consensus top-five ballpark for home run friendliness. For now, you toss Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn and Nick Williams in center or left field and clear the lane for Harper.
And, thanks to the trade of Carlos Santana, right-handed slugger Rhys Hoskins lands softly at first base, where his 34 home runs and 125 OPS-plus won’t be negated by an awkward defensive positioning.
Hoskins has five years left before free agency, giving the Phillies a potentially devastasting right-left combo on which to build. For now, bracketing Jean Segura, Harper and Hoskins at the top of the lineup looks daunting enough.
Imagine mixing in Manny Machado, for good measure.
So, this would be fun.
The Nationals and Phillies have had a rivalry that’s leaned toward the tepid, Phillies fans annoying their counterparts by rolling deep at Nationals Park during Philly’s dynastic NL East run.
Yet as former Phillie Jayson Werth and then Harper joined the Nationals, the Phillies’ fortunes soured. The mere 135 miles of I-95 separating the clubs are greatly conducive to a heated rivalry, but the teams haven’t cooperated: Neither club has been above .500 in the same season since the Nationals franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.
Now, imagine the Phillies stealing the Nationals’ franchise player – and both clubs in go-for-it mode for the foreseeable future.
Harper’s motivation to ship up to Philly could be directly correlated to how many teams show an interest in paying him a record-setting salary. All things being equal, it’s hard to imagine the Las Vegas native preferring Philly over warmer climes. He did check in with good friend Werth about playing in Philly, and should they pay what may be necessary to secure his services – say, $420 million over 12 years – the desert won’t seem that far away.
There is a reason why Phillies owner John Middleton said his club plans to spend money and “maybe even be a little stupid about it,” a rare telegraphing of intent before a crucial off-season.
Philly is sitting on a mountain of cash.
Consider the starting point: With a franchise value of $1.7 billion and annual revenues of $329 million, as estimated by Forbes, the Phillies are firmly in baseball’s upper middle class.
Now, consider their past few off-seasons.
As a mammoth television contract began kicking in – estimated at $2.5 billion over 25 years – the Phillies were executing an overdue rebuild. Consequently, the gulf between payroll and revenue was massive.
In 2015, they had a $95 million opening-day payroll – and an estimated $265 million in revenues.
A year later, it was $100 million and $263 million.
In 2017, Philly had a mere $89 million payroll – and reeled in $325 million in revenue.
Last year, with the signings of Santana and Jake Arrieta, the gap closed a bit – a $147 million payroll and $329 million in revenues.
Over that four-year span, there was a $751 million gap from big league payroll to estimated revenues – just 36% of estimated gross income going to the opening-day roster.
Contrast that with another franchise in their rent district – the Los Angeles Angels, who are valued at $1.8 billion with an estimated $334 million in revenues.
From 2015-18, the Angels’ annual revenues ranged from $302 million to $334 million. In that same span, their payrolls ranged from $146 million to $167 million.
The Angels’ payroll-revenue gap was $656 million – 50% of their revenues going to the major league roster, some 14% more than the Phillies. Little wonder, then, that the Phillies are ready to go on a spending binge while the Angels keep a watchful eye on the bottom line.
Of course, all expenses vary club to club – international signings, scouting, research and development, stadium leases, etc. But it’s clear the Phillies have created substantial wiggle room given their recent austerity.
And with just $62 million in commitments after 2020 – about half of that to newly acquired shortstop Segura – they’ve retained significant flexibility, as well.
Likely. Should he fail to come through on his promise to spend like a drunken Eagles fan, Middleton will be reviled by Philly fans for decades. That means reeling in Harper, Manny Machado, or maybe both.
Certainly, there could be a big-market team lurking in this race – the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees all make sense. But the intersection of clean books, cash on hand and the right time to improve is in just one city – Philadelphia.