Phillies

Inside the anxious final moments of the Phillies' deal with Bryce Harper

Inside the anxious final moments of the Phillies' deal with Bryce Harper

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The mood at Phillies camp Friday was joyous, much like a maternity ward when friends and family gather in delight for a new addition to the family.

But just two days earlier, the atmosphere around camp was starkly different.

Club officials left the ballpark early Wednesday evening with their chins scraping the ground. There was frustration, disappointment and doubt that the team would be able to strike a deal with free-agent slugger Bryce Harper.

The mood swing came Thursday morning in a series of phone calls from Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, to Phillies officials.

Boras wanted to keep talking. He agreed to move on some things if the Phillies would do the same.

Later in the day, Harper and the Phils agreed on a historic 13-year, $330 million contract. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and no opt-out clause; Harper did not want one. The richest deal in American sports history will be officially announced in a news conference at Spectrum Field on Saturday.

The Phillies are happy with the deal.

Harper, his family and Boras are happy with the deal.

So how did they close the gap? How did they go from the frustration, disappointment and doubt of Wednesday to the maternity-ward euphoria of Friday?

According to people on both sides, length of contract was a huge talking point in the negotiations.

Harper, 26, wanted a record amount of money — that was a given — but he also wanted a deal that would take him to the age of 40.

The Phillies were in favor of a lengthy deal because they wanted to spread out the average annual value of the contract. The team wanted to do that so it could maintain the financial flexibility needed to retain players such as Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, and be active in future free-agent markets.

According to sources, the Phillies tried to address both sides’ concerns with a 15-year contract offer that carried a guarantee of more than $325 million, matching the record amount of Giancarlo Stanton’s deal.

That wasn’t getting it done for Boras. The years were good. The average annual value (AAV) was not.

The two sides kept talking.

Then anxiety grew in Phillies camp as the Dodgers and Giants got into the mix.

The Dodgers tried a different route, a short-term deal with a high AAV — as much as $43-45 million, according to some reports.

The Phillies reached out to Boras and started talking about a three-year deal with an AAV of $40 million.

The Giants started to get serious.

OK. The Phillies reached out to Boras and started talking about a six- or seven-year deal at $35 million per year.

Word that the Giants were willing to go to 10 years and more than $300 million began to circulate.

The Phillies had already been willing to go into that territory, but Boras was not happy with their offer because the AAV was too low. The two sides established $330 million as the guaranteed number but that would not work over a 15-year spread.

How about 14 years?

Nope.

Frustration mounted.

It was Wednesday afternoon and the Phillies sensed no framework for a deal. There was disappointment and pessimism. They thought they were done.

But nothing is ever done with Boras. He is like a racecar driver maneuvering through traffic at 100 mph. As long as he sees daylight in front of him, he keeps pushing the pedal. In that $330 million figure, he saw daylight in Philadelphia. Now, if he could only get the AAV up. He called the Phillies back on Thursday morning to talk about the AAV. The Phillies decided to make one final alternation and shortened the term to 13 years. That’s an AAV of $25.3 million, not a record, but more than the AAV of Stanton’s deal, and symbolically more than that nice round number of $25 million.

What would Boras say to that?

Well, by now, you know what he said.

Done deal.

The Phillies had a new addition to the family.

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Pizza, baseball and no punching on the throwing arm — the Hammer family has its priorities in order

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Miles Kennedy

Pizza, baseball and no punching on the throwing arm — the Hammer family has its priorities in order

When Jason Hammer found out he was going to be a dad 25 years ago, he was — naturally — elated.

He wished for all the usual blessings, a healthy pregnancy for his wife, Sindi, and, of course, a happy, healthy baby. Boy, girl, it didn't matter. He just wanted five fingers, five toes and one of those big, toothless smiles — all the things any parent would want.

But deep down inside, Jason Hammer had one little wish.

He really wanted a boy.

You see, Jason didn't have a brother and his family would often give him the ol' wink-wink that it was up to him to one day have a son to carry on the name they all loved.

There was another reason Jason wanted a little boy.

He loved baseball. He had been a shortstop at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho and couldn't wait to someday coach his son in the game he loved.

On July 12, 1994, Jason and Sindi Hammer got their wish when young John Dale arrived.

The little boy was named for both his granddads, but a little more went into the name than that.

We told you that Jason loved baseball.

He had plans for this kid.

"We were young and poor, you know," Jason said with a laugh. "We'd sit at home, watch TV and talk about names. Baseball names. 'What sounds good? Now batting, J.D. Hammer.' We liked the way that sounded. So he was J.D. right from the start."

Jason and Sindi Hammer spent last week in Philadelphia. They did all the touristy things, from the Rocky steps to lunch at Reading Terminal.

And, of course, they caught a Phillies game.

And when public address man Dan Baker announced, "Now pitching for the Phillies, J.D. Hammer," it sounded as good as it had all those years ago when they were sitting on the couch back home in Colorado.

"It's a dream come true," said Jason, 50. "You can't even describe it."

Jason and Sindi have four children, sons J.D., Garrett and Kalen, and a daughter, Brenli. All are skilled on the diamond and their accomplishments are displayed in an area of the basement that Jason has playfully dubbed "the Hammer Hall of Fame." Brenli will pitch at Colby Community College in Kansas in the fall.

The Hammer household must have been a great place to grow up. The family owned five pizza franchises in the Denver area until selling last year. All the kids worked part-time in the family business, making pizzas, delivering, whatever. And when they weren't helping with the family business, they were going to school and playing ball.

Baseball and pizza.

What a life!

But there were rules.

"You could not punch on the throwing arm," Jason said. "You could punch on the other arm, but not the throwing arm. They'd tell on each other. 'Hey, Mom, he punched me on the throwing arm.' It was pretty chaotic.

"All the kids played travel ball. There were times when all four were in different states and we'd be FaceTiming when one came up to bat or was pitching."

J.D. grew up playing shortstop. After high school, he enrolled at Navarro College in Texas. He struggled with the bat during his fall season — he would later find out why — and the coaches were leaning toward red-shirting him unless he wanted to pitch. The coaches at Navarro loved the way J.D. threw the ball across the diamond and thought he had a future on the mound. J.D. wanted to play immediately. He did not want to red-shirt. He'd pitched a few innings here and there in high school. He decided it was time to make the move to the mound.

Over two years at Navarro, J.D. pitched well enough to earn a scholarship to Marshall University in West Virginia and was drafted by his hometown Colorado Rockies in 2016. He was no bonus baby. (In fact, his dad said he's always been an underdog.) He was picked in the 24th round. His signing bonus was just $1,000. But it was a chance.

"I remember the draft," J.D. said. "I was sitting around waiting. The third day came, the rounds kept going and I hadn't been drafted. I thought I'd end up working at my family's pizza shop. When I got the call I was super excited."

J.D. spent his first summer of pro ball pitching for the Rockies' affiliate in Grand Junction, Colorado, about a 4½-hour drive from his hometown of Fort Collins.

Mom and Dad didn't want to get in his way, so they watched the games on the Internet.

Jason knew his son inside and out as a ballplayer and as he watched him pitch, he sensed something was wrong. J.D. would squint and peer in at the catcher for long stretches as he tried to pick up the signs. Occasionally, he would cross up the catcher.

That offseason, J.D. got an eye exam. It came too late to save him as a hitter. But not too late to help fuel his path to the majors as a pitcher. He returned to the Rockies' system wearing glasses in 2017. Later that summer, the Phillies acquired him in a trade for Pat Neshek. Hammer spent most of 2018 recovering from an elbow strain, but came back strong this season and blazed his way from Double A to the majors in May.

The last name instantly brings the hard-throwing reliever attention.

"I've heard it all," J.D. said with a laugh.

He has often entered games with MC Hammer's famous U Can't Touch This playing over the sound system. And not once has he ever requested it.

"I love my name," he said.

But J.D. has another distinguishing trademark — those large, black-frame eyeglasses that are part Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn, part Harry Caray.

"I tried contacts, but they bothered my eyes," he said. "I tried on a bunch of glasses and went big because I didn't want to see the frames when I looked in at the catcher."

In addition to a strikeout arm, J.D. has other skills. He put them on display in spring training 2018. The Phillies had invited him to big-league camp. As a bonding exercise, first-year manager Gabe Kapler planned a talent show one night during camp. Hammer wowed the crowd with his pizza dough flipping skills. The kid can still make a mean pie.

"If I had the ingredients, I could make one right now," he said in the Phillies' clubhouse one day last week.

Even the dough?

"Oh, yeah," he said.

His dad confirmed that.

"He can flip it," Jason said with a laugh. "All the kids can. But I can still do it better than all of them. It's probably the only thing I can still beat them in."

Sindi Hammer celebrated her 50th birthday last week. Her present was a trip to Philadelphia to watch her son pitch in the big leagues.

Jason Hammer, the baseball-loving dad who 25 years ago hoped to be blessed with a little boy, also received a nice Father's Day present.

"J.D. gave me the balls from his first pitch, his first out and his first strikeout," Jason said. "Pretty special."

He laughed.

"They'll go in the Hammer Hall of Fame back home," he said.

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Gabe Kapler coy about Sunday's starter for Phillies but roster moves likely to come

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USA Today Images/Isaiah J. Downing

Gabe Kapler coy about Sunday's starter for Phillies but roster moves likely to come

ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler is playing things close to the vest regarding Sunday's starting pitcher. The Phillies still have not announced who will start the series finale in Atlanta.

Here's what we know:

• It will not be Jake Arrieta on regular rest. Instead, the Phils will get Arrieta an extra day because of the off-day this past Thursday. Arrieta will start Monday's series opener in D.C.

• Cole Irvin will be involved Sunday in some form. He may not start, but he's likely to pitch multiple innings in relief as he did at Dodger Stadium on June 1.

If Irvin doesn't start, the other option is using an opener. However, this isn't as clear-cut as it was against the Dodgers, an extremely left-handed team with Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo.

The Braves come at you from both sides and they are unlikely to alter their batting order because of an opener. Friday night's win was their eighth in a row and they've won all eight with this lineup. 

Atlanta is not going to move Ronald Acuña Jr. down in the order just because a right-hander like Juan Nicasio or Vince Velasquez is beginning the game. The Braves are not going to move Freddie Freeman or Nick Markakis out of their customary spots batting third and fifth.

All that to say, the mind game with the Braves Sunday is unlikely to have a big impact. 

We could wind up seeing someone like Nicasio face the first two batters of the game, Acuña Jr. and Dansby Swanson, then Kapler make the call to the 'pen for Irvin. That would seem like the right spot with Freeman batting third, Markakis fifth, Brian McCann seventh and Ozzie Albies (switch-hitter) eighth.

Roster moves coming

The Phillies could have a couple of roster moves to make Sunday to make room for Irvin and the potential return of Pat Neshek. Neshek (shoulder) responded well after a bullpen session Friday and could be activated Sunday morning. 

If those two are added to the 25-man roster Sunday, the casualties would likely be two of Ranger Suarez, Jerad Eickhoff and J.D. Hammer.

What about Quinn?

The tentative plan was to activate Roman Quinn for this Braves series but now it's more likely he's activated in D.C. rather than Atlanta.

Quinn was hit by a pitch in the shoulder Friday night during a rehab game with Double A Reading and felt discomfort on a subsequent swing. He will not play Saturday night for Reading but will go through his normal pregame routine and the Phillies will formulate a plan from there.

They do not see the shoulder issue as anything serious. Quinn is sitting Saturday as a precaution, Kapler said.

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