Phillies

Bryce Harper looks to find roots and rings in Philly

Bryce Harper looks to find roots and rings in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was a day Bryce Harper seemed destined for as far back as when he was wowing the travel-ball circuit with his tape-measure homers as a 14-year-old back home in Las Vegas and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16.

Harper officially became owner of the richest contract in American sports history when the Phillies announced his 13-year, $330 million deal in a sun-splashed news conference at Spectrum Field on Saturday afternoon.

The event capped a week of intense negotiations between the Phillies and Harper. The Phillies had pursued the free-agent slugger for weeks but did not make an official offer until Sunday, after both sides had gathered extensive intel on each other. There was optimism of getting a deal done on Monday. That was followed by uncertainty on Tuesday and pessimism on Wednesday (see story).

Finally, the two sides agreed on Thursday and, "The maestro got his Harp."

That's how agent Scott Boras described Phillies managing partner John Middleton's pursuit of the 26-year-old Harper.

Boras has always had a way with words, not to mention negotiations. Back in November, he launched "Harper's Bazaar" and this week it all landed in Philadelphia. Not San Francisco. Not Los Angeles. Not back in Washington. Harper wanted to get paid, as they say, but he also wanted something else: To stay in one place for a good, long time. His wife, Kayla, seconded that. In addition to a record amount of cash — stupid money, some might say — he gets that opportunity for 13 years in Philadelphia.

"Beyond the money, years were important to me, being able to put down some roots and grow a family," Harper said. "At the end of this, I could have a couple of kids and they could be able to say they're from Philly."

Yo!

Harper plays with a grimace, a scowl and a competitive sneer. There was none of that Saturday. He smiled easily — yeah, we know, you'd smile, too, if … — and was very articulate in saying the type of things that Philadelphia fans will like to hear.

He called J.T. Realmuto, the Phillies' new catcher, his favorite player in baseball.

He pushed the bounds of tampering by openly wishing that a certain player from Millville, New Jersey, might become a Phillie in two years.

He said he did not want one of those famous opt-out clauses that his man, Boras, invented years ago because he's committed to being a Phillie and winning in Philadelphia.

"For me, it's all about winning," he said. "That's what you're remembered for."

He said he was eager to hang with the Phanatic. He said Gritty was "ugly." (Don't worry, orange fella, that was a compliment. We think.)

With his parents seated a few feet away, he talked about his upbringing.

"I come from a blue-collar family," Harper said. "My dad woke up at 3 in the morning to tie rebar every single day in 130-degree heat in Vegas. That's where I get my work ethic. That's what I want to do every single day. I want to work hard. I want to work out. I want to do the things I can to prolong my career and to play for a very long time and be successful for a very long time."

He has already consulted Tom Brady — several times — about the keys to playing (and producing) into his 40s.

As of nightfall Saturday, the Phillies had sold more than 220,000 tickets since reaching the agreement with Harper on Thursday.

But Middleton does not look at Harper as a marketing tool. (And neither does GM Matt Klentak, who has had a great winter in adding two former MVPs in Harper and Andrew McCutchen, a hits machine shortstop in Jean Segura and the best catcher in baseball in Realmuto.) The rebuild is over. It's time to get Middleton's bleeping trophy back.

Middleton told Boras as much in a meeting last month.

"I said, 'Scott, I want to tell you something: I'm not interested in talking about marketing dollars, tickets sold, billboards, concessions,'" Middleton said in a conversation with reporters moments after the news conference. "I said, 'There's only one reason I'm talking to you, and that's because I believe this guy can help us win, and that's all I care about.' I said, 'I've made enough money in my life. I don't need to make more.' I said, 'My franchise value has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. I don't need it to rise more. If it does, fine. I'm here to win. And I think your guy can help me win, and that's all I want to talk about.'

"In Philadelphia, you put a winning product on the field, they are behind you 1,000 percent. That's all I care about. And frankly, all I really care about is getting that trophy — I can't say the real word — but that trophy."

Harper said his goal was to do just that.

He will strive to reach that goal wearing No. 3. He made his name in No. 34, but that's headed for the rafters in honor of Hall of Famer Roy Halladay.

"Roy Halladay should be the last Phillie to wear No. 34," Harper said in the very ballpark where the pitcher was remembered in a moving memorial service 15 months ago.

Harper chose No. 3 because it was the number his dad and brother wore in high school.

The fans in right field at Citizens Bank Park should get ready to see a lot of that number over the next 13 seasons.

It all starts March 28, opening day.

"I'm excited for that 1:05 against the Braves," Bryce Harper said with a smile.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

ap_joe_girardi_phillies.jpg
AP Images

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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