Phillies

/ by Corey Seidman
Presented By SigningHarper
Phillies

Phillies fans will never forget this offseason. Two surprising and impressive trades, a couple big signings of veterans, and the long, winding, ultimately successful path to bringing Bryce Harper aboard.

On Tuesday at 8 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia premieres "Signing Harper," a one-hour documentary focusing on the behind-the-scenes process for the Phillies to land their man. There will be exclusive interviews with Harper, his agent Scott Boras, Phillies managing partner John Middleton and his wife Leigh, and more.

The path to Harper wasn't easy. Free agency opened on Oct. 29 and Harper agreed to his deal with the Phillies on Feb. 28. Four whole months of false starts and social media sleuthing from information-starved fans. Harper knew all along the process would likely linger into February or March.

Let's take a look back:

September 2018 — Nats make an offer

The Nationals reportedly offer Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract, which he rejects. The deal, Harper would later say, included $100 million in deferred money that he'd receive at age 65. 

Deferalls are nothing new to the Nationals, who have used them in the contracts for Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin and even on a one-year deal for Brian Dozier this winter.

It never made sense for Harper to forgo free agency and the bidding war that would ensue.

Oct. 29 — The market opens

Free agency begins — three words that mean a lot less in baseball than in basketball and football. The absence of a salary cap or salary floor in MLB causes players to linger on the open market. At least a dozen teams had no interest in spending this winter, and some of the most aggressive pursuers of Harper and Manny Machado did not emerge until the end.

 

Nov. 16 — "Stupid money"

Middleton tells USA Today that the Phillies are "expecting to spend money and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."

The quote goes viral and is repeated on Philadelphia airwaves every day for nearly four months.

In the end, the exorbitant sum of money was spent in a shrewd way.

Dec. 11 — McCutchen gets paid

The Phillies sign Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract, beginning the process of reworking their outfield. Was it more than most anticipated McCutchen would receive? Yes. Looking at this offseason retrospectively, it was a necessary move. The Phils could have gone with Michael Brantley on a two-year deal closer to $30 million, but there is a case to be made that McCutchen fits this team better because he's substantially more durable.

Dec. 3 — Phillies acquire Segura

Out of nowhere, the Phillies ship Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford off to Seattle in exchange for Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos.

In one fell swoop, Phils GM Matt Klentak turned two weaknesses — shortstop and the non-fit of Rhys Hoskins in left field — into a strength. Maybe someday Crawford will pan out in the big leagues. He will open 2019 in the Mariners' minor-league system. There is no question Segura is the better hitter and defender at this point, and at 29, Segura fits well into the Phillies' timeline to contend.

Dec. 11 — Phils meet with Boras

The Phillies meet with Boras to discuss Harper and Zach Britton. The Phillies had interest in Britton in the summer of 2018 as well but he went to the Yankees both times.

Dec. 20 — Machado makes his visit

The Phillies host Manny Machado, initially believed to be their on-field preference over Harper, for a visit. A construction worker yells at Machado to "Do the right thing and sign!"

Machado leaves Philly without a contract and takes two more months to make his decision.

Jan. 7 — Phillies set meeting with Harper

The Phillies firm up their meeting with Harper, which takes place five days later in Las Vegas. No offer is made ... yet.

Jan. 29 — Does Vegas know something?

The Phillies' World Series odds are changed to 12/1, fifth-shortest in MLB and a surprising figure for a team coming off an 80-win season. Fans speculate that Vegas has to know something.

 

In reality, betting sites were protecting themselves by making the Phils' odds so short, in case they did land Harper or Machado. 

Feb. 7 — Phillies make a huge trade

Acquiring J.T. Realmuto would be the top move for almost every other team in baseball this offseason. It turned out not to be for the Phillies, who acquired the best catcher in baseball exactly three weeks before agreeing to their deal with Harper.

Jorge Alfaro and top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez were shipped to the Marlins for the All-Star catcher. Realmuto will bat fifth for the Phillies and has a chance to do things at the plate he couldn't in Miami, where the ballpark is cavernous and the lineup protection was nonexistent.

Feb. 19 — Machado mania ends

Machado signs a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres, who did not emerge as a serious player for him until mid-January.

There is reason to believe that members of the Phillies' front office preferred Machado over Harper at one point, but that shifted as the offseason wore on and Phillies people saw how much the fanbase preferred Harper and how much of an economic boost Harper would provide over Machado.

Feb. 22 — Nats close the door on Harper

Nats owner Mark Lerner says on NBC Sports Washington that the Nationals have "moved on" from Harper, removing one major threat for the Phillies.

"We've moved on. We had to," Lerner said. "There was no way we could wait around. ... We've filled out our roster."

Feb. 22 — Air Middleton lands in Vegas again

Middleton meets with Harper and Boras a second time. Middleton's wife, Leigh, and Harper's wife, Kayla, are present. No deal is struck, but the right impression is made on both sides.

Feb. 25 — Have Phillies lost Harper sweepstakes?

Tension grips Phillies camp as their lead in the race for Harper appears to shrink with the Dodgers and Giants negotiating with Harper in a meaningful way.

All along, it was assumed that Harper would prefer one of the California teams because of the short trips between his Vegas home, spring training in Arizona and the regular season in Cali. 

All along, most misread Harper's priorities. Geography and opt-outs didn't matter nearly as much as the baseball world believed.

Feb. 28 — It finally happens

 

A historic end to the month of February for the Phillies, who reach a 13-year, $330 million contract with Harper.

The total money was on par with expectations but the years were not. The shocking 13-year deal pays Harper an average of $25.38 million per year, more money than he'll ever be able to spend but not enough annually to prohibit the Phils from making necessary signings and extensions in the years to come.

March 1 — Inside the negotiations

Jim Salisbury takes us inside the Phillies' negotiation process with Harper, which included a 15-year offer, a short contract at an astronomical price and more. Some incredible details here.

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