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Bryce Harper has eight years left on his Phillies contract, so why does he want an extension?

February 26th, 2024

Bryce Harper wants to die in a Phillies jersey, or so he claims.

As uncomfortable as that sounds — especially now that the new uniform pants don’t fit — Harper’s sentiment is clear: He wants to be a Phillie for life.

Since agreeing to a massive, 13-year, $330 million free-agent deal in March 2019, Harper, now 31, and the Fightins have been a heavenly match: two straight trips to the postseason, a 2022 NL Championship, the 2021 NL MVP award, an adjusted OPS 49% better than league average and the successful recruitment of other established big-league stars.

And so, it has come as a surprise that with eight years and more than $200 million left on his contract, Harper is pining for an extension.

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At the winter meetings in December, Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, expressed his client’s desire to “end his career in Philadelphia” and “play well beyond the contract he has.” Harper reiterated as much last week, telling media including Yahoo Sports that he wants to “play into his 40s.” His current contract takes him through his age-38 season.

At face, Harper’s lust for a contract extension looks bizarre.

Only eight active players (Fernando Tatis Jr., Austin Riley, Rafael Devers, Trea Turner, Shohei Ohtani, Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado and Mookie Betts) are under contract longer than Harper, sans opt-outs. For reference, Jackson Chourio, the Milwaukee Brewers’ yet-to-debut teenage phenom who inked a monumental eight-year deal over the winter, will reach free agency alongside Harper if the Brewers don’t pick up his 2032 team option.

And because Harper’s deal contains no opt-outs — he overruled Boras’ insistence on including opt-outs because he wanted to highlight his commitment to the Phillies organization — he lacks the leverage necessary to meaningfully rework his contract. Other than not wanting to peeve the face of their franchise, the Phillies have no reason to commit more years and money to Harper.

“I don’t want to just brush it off by any means,” president of baseball operations David Dombrowski told The Athletic’s Matt Gelb in the offseason. “He’s welcome to the thought process.”

So if an extension in the near future appears unlikely, why is Harper rocking the boat? The conversation has thus far remained civil, but why risk discord? Harper’s setup in Philly is stellar. The city adores him. He’s surrounded by close friends, with a stacked roster coming off back-to-back postseason appearances. The only thing missing is a World Series trophy.

It’s all because Harper is, by MLB standards, comically underpaid. Phillies owner John Middleton admitted as much to Harper, unprompted, after the team won Game 5 of the 2022 NLCS to reach the World Series.

Harper’s $25,384,615 salary for 2024 ranks just 29th in MLB, behind less accomplished players such as Kris Bryant, Tyler Glasnow and Carlos Rodón. The market has continued to swell since Harper signed with the Phillies in 2019, making his contract look like a bargain. Boras knew this could happen, which is why he encouraged the opt-outs that would have allowed Harper to restructure his deal.

For context, players and agents often work opt-outs into long-term contracts, not because a player has interest in playing elsewhere but because it provides leverage to renegotiate. Manny Machado’s first contract with the San Diego Padres, signed the same winter as Harper’s Phillies deal, contained an opt-out, which he and his agent used to finalize an 11-year, $350 million extension with the Padres last winter. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, a fellow Boras client, has an opt-out at the end of this season, which he’s likely to use as a bargaining chip for a new deal.

But Harper was hyper-committed to winning and firmly believed that forgoing opt-outs was a crucial piece of the puzzle. In his mind, if he showed the league that he was committed to Philadelphia, other top players would follow. And that’s exactly what has happened. Through his unwavering enthusiasm and a whole lot of owner John Middleton’s cash, Harper has made Philadelphia a premier destination for free agents, including Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber.

Even now, as Harper advocates for himself, he has continued to push for those around him.

“I understand there’s other guys to take care of, right?” he said. “I understand that [impending free-agent ace Zack Wheeler] is a big one for us right now.”

Bryce Harper wants to be a Phillie for life. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports) (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)

Bryce Harper wants to be a Phillie for life. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)

Beyond the diamond, Harper’s total embrace of the city and franchise has endeared him to Philly sports fans. There are murals, tattoos, babies being named Bryce. He has rejuvenated the franchise and returned it to preeminence, ushering in a new, exhilarating era of Phillies baseball.

Now Harper wants that loyalty rewarded, that favor returned. This isn’t about money so much as it is about respect. But there’s little reason to expect anything momentous anytime soon.

While it’s understandable that Harper, a character who has defied convention at every turn, believes he can thrive into his 40s, his 40s are still nine years away. The Phillies can wait and see how their supernova ages. If Harper continues to rake and seems primed to dodge the Father Time curve, Middleton and the Phillies can discuss an extension in a few years. They can afford to wait and see.

In the meantime, Harper is unlikely to raise much of a stink. Expect the future Hall of Famer to put his relative discontent on the back burner. This is not a hold-out — far from it. His focus remains on the regular season (dude has a new position to continue learning!). Besides, Harper’s current situation is too good to mess up over uncertainties so far in the future.

The likeliest scenario? It’s still that Harper finishes his career as a Phillie, one way or another.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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