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February 20, 2019

The Phillies have some extremely appealing Bryce Harper alternatives

Phillies MLB
022019_Craig-Kimbrel_usat Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel.

Manny Machado's $300 million is nothing. Bryce Harper wants to be the most highly paid baseball player on the planet.

According to Spotrac.com, Harper is worth $31 million a year. They use a complex system to evaluate, but essentially, a 10 year, $310 million deal is around fair for Harper.

Reports are suggesting he wants a deal that starts with the number 4. The Phillies have been patient and have tried as hard as they could to build a team appealing to a Harper kind of free agent (with trades for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto reinforcing free agent signees David Robertson and Andrew McCutchen). But perhaps there is a level of stupid money that is just too stupid.

What else could the Phillies do with the between $31-and-$40 million a year Scott Boras is attempting to secure for his star right fielder?

First lets set a baseline. Here is what the Phillies will be getting next year in Harper, according to a projection from Baseball Reference:

 BA HR / RBI Average WAREst. Salary 
 Bryce Harper.265 27 / 873.9 $31-40m per year


Harper has been worth just over 27 wins during his seven seasons in MLB, based on his WAR (wins above replacement) or just under four wins per year. Using that as a starting point, could the Phillies afford to get more wins with that same money this season?

Perhaps their line up is more or less set without Harper, but their pitching staff could use a boost. Here's how another path with Philly's cash could help the club reach the postseason:

 W/L  ERA Average WAREst. Salary 
 Dallas Keuchel11-9 3.712.6$20-24m per year 
 Craig Kimbrel4-2 (25 saves)3.142.2$15-17m per year 


Keuchel is 31, has won a Cy Young award and World Series. Kimbrel is 30, has won eight awards for reliever of the year and also is a World Series champ. Together, they would add just as many wins, in theory, as Harper.

They also would be candidates for short-term contracts. This is an appealing strategy for a number of reasons. 

Inking the two above players instead of 26-year-old Harper, who will want a decade's long commitment, not only will help them to try and "win now," it also gives them a ton of roster flexibility. They'll have an easier time finding room for up-and-coming prospects like first-round picks Adam Haseley and Mickey Moniak (both in spring training this year and both outfielders).

It will also give them cash to spent in the near future. Here's some of the big bats who could hit the open market as the Phillies championship window comes into view (the stats, like above, are BR's projected 2019 stats):

 FA year / ageBAHR / RBI  Average WAR
Nolan Arenado2019 / 28.29232 / 1025.5
Anthony Rendon2019 / 29.28520 / 813.5
Mike Trout2020 / 29.29930 / 748.0
Mookie Betts2020 / 28.30124 / 807.0
 Francisco Lindor2021 / 28.27926 / 785.9


[UPDATE — Feb 26, 1:30 p.m.]: Nolan Arenado signed a gigantic contract extension that will pay him $32.5 million per season, he will not be a free agent in the fall of 2019.

There is a pretty good argument to be made that keeping some payroll room for the offseason's ahead could be a good strategy.

The Phillies could also look at a player like veteran outfielder Adam Jones. At 33, he hit .281 with 15 homers last season. There are a ton of current free agents that would offer a slight upgrade and a better opportunity to win now and with the market currently stagnant, it's theoretically a buyers market (for everyone but Harper).

So take your pick. As we wait for the Bryce Harper camp to make its final decision, don't buy into the "Bryce or Bust" frame of mind. Phillies' GM Matt Klentak certainly isn't.

"We have to remember that there will be other free agents after this offseason," Klentak told media members Tuesday after the Machado news broke. "There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to spend money and to make our team better. We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs. There's a significant cost that we're willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point."


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