Phillies

How Nolan Arenado's mega-deal affects Bryce Harper negotiations

How Nolan Arenado's mega-deal affects Bryce Harper negotiations

Manny Machado wasn't the only player Bryce Harper was competing with this offseason to land the biggest contract. Nolan Arenado, though he wasn't a free agent, was also on track to get paid this winter and did he ever.

Arenado and the Rockies are finalizing an eight-year extension worth $260 million, according to multiple reports. The deal's annual average is $32.5 million, a major-league record for a position player.

There is an opt-out provision after three seasons, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, a key inclusion based on what it could mean for Harper.

The risk of waiting

Arenado was set to become a free agent after the 2019 season but the Rockies couldn't let him walk.

His extending early shows the risk of waiting for future free agents when a superstar like Harper is available now. Mookie Betts and Mike Trout line up as the next two elite free agents (after 2020) but there's no certainty either reaches the open market. The deep-pocketed Red Sox will do everything it takes to retain Betts. While Trout is expected to get to free agency, the competition for him will be fierce and much more crowded than the markets were for Machado and Harper this offseason.

One of the most important aspects of this offseason for the Phillies has been the reluctance of teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs to woo the top two free agents. The Dodgers were believed to be in that group, too, before re-emerging in the race for Harper. All of those teams and many others will pursue Trout if/when he becomes available. 

Arenado's impact on Harper market

Scott Boras' goals with the Harper deal aren't too difficult to decipher. He'll want Harper's deal to exceed Machado's $300 million, Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million and now Arenado's $32.5M per year.

A 10-year, $330 million deal would accomplish all three goals, but Harper's camp is likely seeking even more than that. The magic number seems closer to $360 million. It's unclear if the Phillies will go that high since it doesn't appear any other organization can.

The opt-out

Arenado's ability to opt out of his contract after three years might not be all that meaningful for him. It gives him flexibility, but three years from now he'll be entering his age-31 season. Is he really going to find a better deal at that point than Years 4-8 of the record-setting one he's about to sign?

Harper is 18 months younger than Arenado. For Harper, opting out after three years would make him a free agent at 29. He'd be in position to find another huge contract if the first three years of his next deal go well. Though again, Harper might not be able to find more money than he'd be due to make in Year 4 and beyond of the contract he signs this offseason.

In any event, Harper and Boras will seek that opt-out and probably multiple opt-outs during the life of a long-term contract from the Phillies. It gives the player protection if he underperforms but freedom if he overperforms. It's a concession the Phillies have likely known all winter they'll have to make if they want Harper.

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Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Steve Carlton, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay. There are certain eras of Phillies baseball over the last 40 years when you knew who was going to have the honor of being named opening day starter before spring training even started. This year, Aaron Nola was poised to take the ball for his third straight opening-day start. 

Since Carlton’s incredible run of starting 14 out of 15 openers, there have been 15 pitchers tabbed to start the season off for the Phillies but not all were household names. Here’s a look back at some of the pitchers you may have forgotten got the nod in Game 1 of 162.

2005-06: Jon Lieber

Lieber had a couple of pretty good seasons with the Cubs early in the 2000s, was an All-Star in ’01 when he won 20 games and started three straight Opening Days for them. But after having Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Yankees, missed all of ’03 and then bounced back with a solid 2004, good enough for the Phillies to sign him.

He won that '05 opener for the Phillies and had a pretty good campaign, winning 17 games and leading the NL in starts. He pitched another two unremarkable years for the Phils, going 12-17 with a 4.87 ERA.

2001/02: Omar Daal/Robert Person

Lumping these two together because it was a transition time for the Phillies. In the midst of their seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the Phillies traded ace Curt Schilling in July of 2000 to Arizona for four players, one of which was Daal. The lefty ended up losing 19 games in 2000, one game short of becoming the first pitcher in 20 years to lose 20. But that was good enough to earn (?) him the opening day start in 2001, the first with Larry Bowa as manager. Daal had a better year, going 13-7, but did have a 4.46 ERA.

Person also had a very solid season, going 15-7 with a 4.19 ERA. That got him the start in the 2002 opener, but he never found the same success on the mound as he did in ’01. At the plate, however, he had one of the more memorable days for a Phillies pitcher this century in a June game vs. Montreal. He hit a grand slam and a 3-run homer, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI.

2000: Andy Ashby

Ashby had come up in the Phillies system in the late '80s and actually made his MLB debut for the club in 1991. He was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft and ended up in San Diego, where he flourished. He was a two-time all-star, started a couple of openers and helped lead the Padres to the NL title in 1998.

When the Phillies traded three prospects for Ashby before 2000, they thought it gave them a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation to go along with Schilling (who missed the beginning of 2000 due to injury). However, that didn’t work out. After going 4-7 with a 5.68 ERA, Ashby was traded during the All-Star break to the Braves for Bruce Chen.

1996: Sid Fernandez

Did you even remember Sid Fernandez was a Phillie? From 1994 through 1999, Schilling started five of six opening days for the Phils. When he started ’96 on the DL, in stepped Fernandez for the opening day honor. “El Sid” had some really good seasons with the vaunted Mets staff of the '80s, making a couple of All-Star games and helping them win a World Series.

Almost a decade later, he signed with the Phillies for the second half of the ’95 season and did well, posting a 3.34 ERA and going 6-1. He wasn’t as effective in ’96, which basically ended his career (he pitched one game for Houston the next season).

1990: Bruce Ruffin

Remembered more for his Chris Berman-given nickname, Bruce “Two Minutes For” Ruffin’s career started with a bang. He went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Phillies in 1986. But it kind of went downhill from there. Over the next five years with the club, he never finished above .500 and had only one year with an ERA below 4.00. But he got the opening day start in 1990 because someone had to. Partly because…

1989: Floyd Youmans

Maybe the original “new guy” that got the nod for the Phillies, Floyd Youmans had a promising start to his career in Montreal. He started the opener in ’87 at the age of 23, but injuries and a suspension derailed his time there. Before the 1989 season, the Phillies got him in a trade for Kevin Gross. Youmans started only 10 games for the Phillies in what was his final MLB season.

1987-1988: Shane Rawley

Rawley actually had a few good years with the Phils. He made the All-Star team in 1986 and won 17 games with a 3.54 ERA. In ’85, he won 13 with a 3.31. So when it came time to replace Carlton for Opening Day, the torch was passed to Rawley.

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What an opening weekend this would have been for Phillies

What an opening weekend this would have been for Phillies

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." — A. Bartlett Giamatti

Of all the quotes about baseball I have read, the beginning of Bart Giamatti's essay "The Green Fields of the Mind" is the one that paints a picture (in oil, of course) of my connection to and love of baseball.

In three sentences we are taken from the renewal of spring to lazy summer afternoons and evenings at the ballpark and finally, to the ache of autumn as the game leaves us for the year.

This year, with fairly little warning, the heartbreak came early. Spring fever actually came with a ... real fever.

We had opening weekend on tap. The Phillies visiting the Miami Marlins. We would take the wraps off a revamped Phillies roster and get a feel for our new set of wheels this season.
What do we have? A team to be truly excited about? Not enough horses? Can Bryce Harper pick up where he left off? Will Jake Arrieta and Rhys Hoskins bounce back?

My watch signals game time.

My phone reminds me, too.

Do the watch and the phone know what they're doing to me?

If you've been a baseball fan since you were a kid, on opening weekend there is a sense of "school's out!" even though you've got two months left. What it is, really, is the promise of summer, laid out in 360 feet of basepath and three acres of the lushest Kentucky Bluegrass you've ever smelled.

As with this opening weekend, the weather is unpredictably tantalizing. Thursday gorgeous, Friday the same, Saturday wet, Sunday back in the drink.

All of that would have been OK. The Marlins play in a dome. The games would be played regardless of weather.

Would have been a good weekend to stay inside.

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