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February 28, 2019

The Phillies won the Bryce Harper deal and here's why

Phillies MLB
011019_Bryce-Harper_usat Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

Free agent outfielder Bryce Harper.

The Phillies signed Bryce Harper to, well, compared to what he and his agent probably wanted, very very good terms for the organization and its future plans. 

The deal reportedly struck Thursday afternoon is a 13-year pact worth $330 million, or around $25.38 million per season — well below the AAV of Nolan Arenado, who will be paid $32.5 million per season and whose record contract will stand.

Harper still receives the most money in baseball history at $330 million, but the Phillies will hang on to something that will be very very important as the emerge as a serious World Series contender: payroll flexibility.

The current luxury tax threshold — the soft salary cap for MLB baseball teams that is heavily taxed if exceeded — is at $206 million this season and set to slightly rise each season over the course of Harper's decade-plus contract. With his relatively low AAV, the Phils have some money to go after another big fee agent this March. Or Mike Trout in the future.

 Payroll pre HarperPost Harper
Phillies $126m$152m
MLB Rank13th11th
Luxury Tax space ($206)$80m$54m

That's a lot of remaining "cap space." And even with their other signings, David Robertson and Andrew McCutchen, the team is still outside of the top 10 of the league's highest payrolls.

They also have room for Dallas Keuchel, or Craig Kimbrel — two top pitchers still on the market who are looking for a new home. Here's a table we used last week. The stats are from baseball reference's 2019 season projections:

 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 


One or even both would keep the Phils under the luxury tax with room to spare, and both would give the new look Phillies even more ammo as they'll no doubt be tagged the front-runners in the NL East (and possibly in the National League).

Here's another table from last week, looking forward a few offseasons at some of the big ticket free agents who will become available:

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

By somehow walking a tightrope that netted them Harper and salary room to spare — The Phillies' front office definitely won the Harper deal. 

It could be the start of a new era of Phillies baseball. Buy your tickets now. A new sellout streak could be starting on March 28.


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