Bryce Harper and the Dodgers will force Phillies out of their comfort zone

Bryce Harper and the Dodgers will force Phillies out of their comfort zone

The mutual interest between Bryce Harper and the Dodgers is complicated, for several reasons. Phillies fans are right to be concerned about the latest development in the ongoing Harper saga but are also right to wonder whether the Dodgers are being used.

Let's cover the bases here ...

Money/contract length

The Dodgers, after sitting out of or lingering quietly in the Harper market for months, do not appear willing to commit $300 million. Their interest is reportedly of the short-term variety. It's reasonable to think that could mean four years, $160 million or five years, $200 million.

An annual average salary of $40 million per year would easily top the highest AAV in baseball history, which belongs to Zack Greinke at $34.4 million. Agent Scott Boras could still accurately portray the contract as a record-setter.

Such a deal would have its benefits and flaws for Harper and Boras. The flaws are it's not a higher sum than Manny Machado's $300M, nor would it beat Giancarlo Stanton's record 13-year, $325M deal.

The benefits? A four- or five-year deal at an astronomical yearly price would essentially be the same as a 10-year deal with an opt-out after four or five years. 

To put that plainly, let's say the Phillies offer Harper 10 years, $350 million with an opt-out after four years. 

Let's say the Dodgers offer five years, $200 million.

Harper could earn the same amount of money over the first half of the contract. Having a long-term deal from the Phillies would give him immense financial security in case he underperforms during that four- or five-year window.

But if he meets expectations or surpasses them, he'd be opting out anyway. So the Phillies' longer deal really only benefits Harper if the downside is realized. If he has a great next four or five years, then he'd be retesting free agency at 30 or 31 anyway. In that scenario, it doesn't make a difference whether he's retesting free agency because his contract expired or because he opted out.

Philly vs. L.A.

Harper is not opposed to playing in Philadelphia, but that does not mean it's his top choice. Both things can be true.

Los Angeles has long been considered his preference, for Hollywood reasons and for geographical reasons. 

Playing for the Dodgers would mean Harper has a short commute between his offseason home in Vegas, his spring training complex in Glendale, Arizona and his home stadium in L.A. Flights from Vegas to Glendale and Vegas to L.A. are both shorter than 80 minutes. Flights from Vegas to Clearwater or Vegas to Philly exceed four hours.

Will that be the determining factor for Harper? No, probably not — money supersedes everything. But geography is a key factor for any free agent in any sport and the Dodgers have that advantage over the Phillies. It's wishful for a Phillies fan to overlook it.

In negotiations of this magnitude, the three most important factors are almost always money, location, team competitiveness.

Smart play by Boras

Re-engaging the Dodgers makes all the sense in the world from Boras' standpoint. It's the most fearsome competitor the Phillies could have because of the reasons outlined above. The Dodgers, unlike the Giants, combine all three of a player's deciding factors: financial muscle, geography and a chance to win. 

Aside from Harper's legitimate interest in L.A., the Dodgers' reemergence gives Boras and Harper more leverage. Because they are a genuine concern, the Phillies have only two choices: boost their offer, or call Boras' bluff by figuring Harper won't sign a short-term deal.

Phillies' dangerous game of poker

Calling the bluff is a risky move that could result in not landing the player. The Phillies, despite managing partner John Middleton's passing comment to Bob Nightengale in a hotel lobby four months ago, have been deliberate and dispassionate in their pursuits of both Harper and Manny Machado. 

Many fans have clamored this offseason for the Phils to do whatever it takes, to come over the top with an offer so enormous that the agent and player cannot refuse. So far, they haven't. They may inevitably offer that magic number and it could be because of Dodger-fueled motivation. To this point, they obviously haven't bent as far as Boras would like.

Dodgers' ulterior motive

Whether or not the Dodgers get Harper, reengaging makes complete sense for them as well. It will almost certainly cause the Phillies to make a better offer, either in guaranteed years, guaranteed dollars, more player-friendly opt-outs, or all of the above.

If/when the Phillies do that, their ability to spend on future players theoretically decreases. The Dodgers will contend for years. The Phillies, with Harper, would contend for years. If you're L.A., why not make it as uncomfortable as possible for one of your future competitors?

The exception to this is Mike Trout. If Trout ever reaches free agency, any team with money and a real shot at him, including the Phillies, would make the sort of offer they wouldn't make anyone else. And that will still be the case even if the Phils are forced to spend $40-50 million more than they want on Harper.

In conclusion

This feels like the finish line — Phillies long-term vs. Dodgers short-term. The pace of Harper negotiations has reached a new speed in the days since Machado signed, and with the regular season now a bit over a month anyway, it's nearing go-time for Harper if he wants the best chance to experience success early in his new deal.

This is going to be a close call for all parties involved. For the Phillies to land Harper, it will involve discomfort. That's just the way it is. The question is how uncomfortable they're willing to get.

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J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto began his first chat with reporters since baseball’s re-start with a request on Thursday.

He asked that questions about his contract situation with the Phillies be kept to a minimum. 

But in explaining why, Realmuto said plenty.

“We were in the really preliminary stages (of negotiations) early on in spring training before the pandemic and we haven't really gone anywhere since then, so if we could focus on the team here and speak a little bit less about myself that would be greatly appreciated,” the All-Star catcher said.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two separate comments from two different people involved in this drama that would suggest negotiations aren’t going particularly well

Ten days ago, general manager Matt Klentak, who rarely even entertains a question about ongoing contract negotiations, offered this on the state of talks with Realmuto’s camp:

"The landscape that we left in March is different from the one we return to now. We just have to see how that manifests itself in our discussions. We still love the player. We'd still love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the game right now on a variety of levels. We just need to play that out."

Opening day for the shortened 2020 season is just two weeks away. Given the tone of the remarks offered by both sides, it’s difficult to see the Phillies and Realmuto coming to terms on a deal before then. Once the season starts, Realmuto will be just a few months away from free agency, a place that elite players fantasize about.

Realmuto was pressed on the topic of what appear to be stagnant negotiations with the Phillies.

“There's no frustration,” he said. “I understand the business of baseball. I'm here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.”

The business of baseball in the pandemic year of 2020 means revenues are down all over the game. Phillies managing partner John Middleton, in an email to club employees back on June 1, said the team was braced to lose “significantly more than 100 million” this season.

Realmuto, 29, has long made it known that he’s looking to significantly raise the salary bar for all catchers in his next contract – be it with the Phillies or out on the open market. Something rivaling Joe Mauer’s average salary of $23 million – a record for a catcher – in the form of a multiyear deal seemed to be the starting point for Realmuto and it really didn’t seem that unreasonable over the winter.

Then the pandemic hit. The game shut down. Even when the games come back in two weeks, there will be no fans in the stands. The “gate” accounts for about 40 percent of the revenues that most teams bring in. Teams will reap some television revenues when the shortened, 60-game season begins in two weeks, but who knows if the season will be completed with COVID-19 spiking in a number of baseball states, and who knows if there will even be fans in the stands next season. The world begs for a vaccine. Baseball’s next free-agent class begs for a vaccine.

Realmuto has concerns about how "the new landscape" will affect the overall free-agent market this winter, but, personally, he’s undaunted about the prospect of hitting the market.

“It definitely concerns me,” he said. “Necessarily not for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole. I mentioned a few months back that the top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them, you know. Maybe if it's not 20 teams that are in on you, now there'll be five to 10. I just think that a lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off. As half the league will probably be trying to cut revenue and save some money and the other ones will look at it as an advantage to maybe go forward and press forward. I think that it could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I'm not really too worried about it.”

Even with negotiations not progressing, Realmuto expressed affection for the Phillies organization.

“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit,” he said. “I love this organization. They've been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they're just good people and they care about baseball, and that's really important to me.”

It’s still quite possible that Realmuto and the Phillies find a way to strike a long-term marriage. Baseball negotiations can endure painful moments and still end up with everyone happy. But no baseball negotiation has ever had to play out against a pandemic that has caused the game to hemorrhage revenues. Had this pandemic hit 18 months ago, Relamuto’s teammate, Bryce Harper, probably would not have landed a $330 million contract.

Harper wants Realmuto to remain with the Phillies. He wants him to get paid. He made that clear when he shouted, “Sign him!” during an intersquad game at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. 

“I hope he owns a team one day, honestly,” Realmuto said. “I might be able to catch until I'm 60 if he owns a team.

“Honestly, it’s all in good fun. I appreciate the support and the respect is mutual there. He has a little fun with it so I don't mind it too much.

“From a public standpoint, it doesn't bother me how much it's being talked about. For me I'm going to focus on this season and focus on helping this team win and that's really all I can do.”

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Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Three days after MLB’s 2020 schedule came out, the league released the 2021 schedule.

There’s so much uncertainty around baseball right now, with COVID-19 cases around the league, issues with testing, players opting out and many others wary of the virus. There will be no fans in the stands in 2020, but this look at the 2021 schedule provides some early excitement for if/when the coronavirus pandemic slows enough to allow fans back into stadiums.

The Phillies will open the 2021 season at home against the Braves on April 1. The first four series alternate between Braves and Mets, the first two at home and next two on the road.

The Phils’ earliest 2021 non-division road trip is to Colorado and St. Louis from April 23-29.

The month of May includes two long road trips — a nine-gamer through Atlanta, Washington and Toronto, and another nine-game trip to Miami, Tampa and Cincy the week of Memorial Day. The Phillies also have a home weekend series against the Red Sox.

The Phillies face a daunting slate in June, with 11 consecutive games against the Nationals, Braves, Yankees and Dodgers. That Dodgers series is the Phils’ first West Coast swing, with a series in San Francisco to follow.

The Phillies are home for July 4 (a Sunday) against the Padres and then close out the first half of 2021 on the road at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in back-to-back series. That is a bucket list trip for many baseball fans.

From July 22 through Aug. 15, the Phils play 17 of 24 games at home, before their final West Coast trip to Arizona and San Diego.

September/October 2021 is not as heavy a dose of division matchups as usual for the final month. Only 13 of the Phillies’ 30 regular-season games after Sept. 1 are against NL East teams. Their final week is a trip to Atlanta and Miami.

The Phillies’ interleague schedule is entirely against the AL East, so these two divisions will become quite familiar over the next 15 months. The Phillies play the Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox on the road. They host the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Orioles.

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