It has been such a long winter for MLB free agency. The market for player services slowed down as everyone waited to see where two marquee names would play next season.
These two players were Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Machado was fresh off a World Series run with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even though Harper missed the postseason with the Washington Nationals, he launched 34 home runs to place in the top 20 among qualified players.
This winter was essentially a grudge match to see which player would get paid the most money for their services. While that occured, the hot stove went cold on just about everyone else’s market.
As spring training began, Machado signed a then-record 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres. Days later, Harper signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for 13 years and $330 million contract. Harper and the Phillies made a big mistake with the contract.
While Harper gets more money, he’s essentially stuck in Philadelphia for the rest of his career. There is no opt-out clause at any point, so he will be 39 years old when his contract ends.
Machado, on the other hand, can opt-out in 2023. So if the Padres aren’t getting close to a meaningful playoff run, he can jump ship and find another team who is close to winning it all, while he is still in the prime of his career.
In the past, Harper has been known to stir controversy with his temper on the field and in the clubhouse. If those issues arise in Philadelphia, they are basically stuck with that until 2032.
Let’s also assume that at some point in the middle of his contract, the Phillies decide to rebuild while their superstar ages. Although Harper stated he has a desire to remain in Philadelphia for the rest of his career, there may be a point during this proposed rebuild that he decides he wants to be traded to a more competitive team. The amount of money he’s getting paid per year and the length of the contract makes it difficult to trade him if it ever gets to that point.
If he or the Phillies underwhelm, there will be some severe criticism being thrown their way.
That being said, let’s also look at some notable recent mega-contracts that illustrate this.
Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera signed an eight-year, $244 million contract extension back in 2014. At the time, it seemed justified. The Tigers had made the postseason for four consecutive years, including a trip to the World Series. Since 2015, they have been near the bottom of the standings while their superstar continues to age and struggle with injuries.
Let’s also look at Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols’ mega-contract. The Angels signed him for 10 years and $240 million in 2012, just a year removed from winning the World Series.
At the time, having a veteran soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer in the lineup with a young Mike Trout looked like the start of a successful era for the Angels.
It’s only produced one playoff appearance, which ended in a first-round sweep after winning 98 games in 2014. The Angels have been wasting Trout’s best years, while Pujols continues to underwhelm and struggle with injuries.
Bryce Harper and the Phillies are now on the clock to make dividends and take advantage of his young age. If there isn’t any immediate success on the field, people will get fired and fans won’t be happy for years to come.