Bryce Harper contract: Inside the anxious final moments of Phillies' deal with their $330 million star

Bryce Harper contract: Inside the anxious final moments of Phillies' deal with their $330 million star

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?


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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Watch Phillies Alec Bohm's loved ones' amazing reaction to his first career at-bat

Watch Phillies Alec Bohm's loved ones' amazing reaction to his first career at-bat

Phillies star prospect Alec Bohm made his major league debut at third base on Thursday night, a pretty big moment for the future of the organization. 

Things went wrong basically all night for the Phils - of course! - but the 24-year-old managed to smack his first career at-bat down the third base line for a double, quite a way to begin a career.

While his parents and girlfriend couldn't be in attendance at Citizens Bank Park because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they were certainly watching. And, thanks to technology, we can watch their reactions to Bohm's first hit.

Here's what an MLB debut hit looks like in 2020:

Man, that's just the best. 

So much to love in a 41-second clip - Bohm's dad keeping his cool and noting the double; his mom's absolute exuberance; his girlfriend commenting on Bohm's smile - but my favorite part is the quote from his mom at the very end.

"Go baby go!"


After an otherwise brutal night for the Phils, I'm going to just keep watching this video on repeat. At least one thing went right.

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Are the Phillies this bad? Phils 5-9 after being swept by Orioles at home

Are the Phillies this bad? Phils 5-9 after being swept by Orioles at home

For the third straight night, the Phillies blew a multi-run lead against the Orioles in the middle innings. And for what feels like the 30th straight night, the Phillies' putrid bullpen didn't come close to keeping the game close.

It resulted in another loss as the Phillies were swept at home by the O's, losing 11-4 Thursday with seven of those runs coming against the Phils' bullpen.

Jake Arrieta had been cruising and the Phils built a two-run lead on J.T. Realmuto's opposite-field home run in the bottom of the fourth. But the next half-inning, Arrieta lost his command and couldn't pick up the final out with the bases loaded.

The Orioles scored four times in the fifth inning, the biggest hit a bases-clearing double from outfielder Anthony Santander.

Baltimore tacked on seven more runs against the Phillies' bullpen, which has a 10.13 ERA. Phillies relievers have allowed 48 earned runs in 42⅔ innings, which seems almost impossible.

"You have to be able to pitch to win games in this league, and quite frankly we just haven't thrown the ball well," Realmuto said. "We haven't done well late in games, in particular, when we've needed it. To win a division and to get to the playoffs, you need a really good bullpen. That's an area where we haven't done that well so far. We've got the guys to do it, we've just got to get better."

The Phillies are 5-9. They have the second-worst winning percentage in the National League, ahead of only the Pirates.

"It's concerning," Realmuto said. "With this shortened season, we've got to get it going quicker. It's definitely being talked about in the clubhouse. We're trying to pick each other up and stay positive. If you have one good week, you're back in it. Especially in our division, nobody is really running away with it yet."

Bohm's debut

Making his MLB debut, third baseman Alec Bohm's first major-league plate appearance ended with a double down the third-base line. He struck out looking in his second at-bat and flew out to a step in front of the warning track in right field to strand two runners in his third AB. In his final at-bat, he drilled a ball to the warning track in right-center for a flyout.

Bohm was also involved in Baltimore's fifth-inning rally. Pedro Severino rocketed a ball right under his glove at third base. It was the second-hardest hit ball of the night to that point and was a tough play but still probably one a big-league third baseman has to make.

Prior to the game, Phillies GM Matt Klentak described the team's plans to integrate Bohm into the everyday lineup.

Bryce and J.T. do it again

The Phillies are 5-9 but they might be something like 2-12 without their best two players. Realmuto hit a pair of two-run homers Thursday night, giving him 7 HR with 17 RBI on the season. Both home runs came after an extra-base hit from Bryce Harper, who doubled and tripled.

Harper is hitting .356 and leads MLB with a 1.202 OPS. Realmuto is hitting .292 and slugging .729, third to only Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. Realmuto has three more home runs than any other big-league catcher despite the Phillies having played a handful fewer games than most of the league.

There is a very good chance this is the hottest Harper and Realmuto will be in 2020. It would be hard to be hotter. If that's the case, the Phillies wasted all of this production.

Arrieta's night

Arrieta appeared to be on his way to another strong start before that fifth inning. He followed six shutout frames against the Braves with four zeroes Thursday night, extending his scoreless innings streak to 12 before the Orioles broke out.

"There's no reason I shouldn't have been able to throw at least seven innings in that game," Arrieta said. "A couple of runs should have been enough. Giving up four in the fifth kind of took the wind out of our sails. That one's completely my fault. I had multiple opportunities to make a pitch and get out of that inning. Just wasn't able to do it."

Through three starts, Arrieta has a 4.02 ERA with 14 strikeouts and two walks in 15⅔ innings.

More bad bullpening

Debuting Connor Brogdon was welcomed to the Phillies' bullpen by allowing two homers and three runs in 1⅓ innings. The Phillies have nine relievers with an ERA over 8.00 and ended up using position player Neil Walker for the final two outs.

Up next

The Phillies welcome the Mets to town for a three-game series this weekend. Jacob deGrom is scheduled to pitch for the Mets in Game 1. The Phillies will go with Spencer Howard for his second major-league start.

Aaron Nola starts for the Phillies Saturday, while Zack Wheeler faces his old team Sunday.

After the weekend, the Phillies play 10 straight games and 20 of their next 29 on the road.

"We obviously haven't performed up to our standards, that's for sure," Arrieta said. "There's really no time to worry about it. We just have to play better. We already have to catch up quite a bit."

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