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?
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.
The Phillies had a new addition to the family.
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