Phillies rumors: 10-plus years? A more flexible deal could benefit Bryce Harper more

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Phillies rumors: 10-plus years? A more flexible deal could benefit Bryce Harper more

Here's what we know: The Phillies are planning to meet with Bryce Harper, in person, in the coming days.

Here's what we don't know: How many years the Phillies, White Sox or Nationals are truly willing to offer at this point.

There was an ESPN report Wednesday stating the Phillies and White Sox are willing to go 10 years for Harper. Hours after that surfaced, a high-ranking industry source told plugged-in Chicago reporter Bruce Levine that it is "without any substance and flat-out wrong." Levine reports the White Sox will not be offering a contract of more than seven years to either Harper or Manny Machado.

Along those lines, it should not be taken as gospel that the Phillies have offered or will offer Harper 10-plus years. And quite honestly, the focus on the number of the years for either player, but particularly Harper, has been overblown to this point. The annual average salary is what matters most.

Why? Because the way Scott Boras and other agents have designed contracts for their top clients in recent years favors flexibility and leverage for the player in the form of opt-out clauses. If a team offers Harper $400 million over 12 years, then a straightforward contract would likely be considered. But if the dollar figure doesn't reach that stratosphere, then Boras could be looking for out-clauses early in Harper's contract to let him return to free agency while he's still a superstar in his prime. 

We've seen this play out with Clayton Kershaw, who signed a seven-year, $215 million deal with the Dodgers in 2013. The contract included an opt-out after 2018, the fifth year of the deal. Kershaw exercised that opt-out at the start of this offseason and instead of earning $65 million over the next two years, he'll earn $93 million over the next three. If he stays healthy, incentives would push the deal to $106 million.

Last offseason, Boras' top offensive client, J.D. Martinez, received multiple opt-out clauses in his five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox. And after one MVP-caliber season and World Series ring, it is already looking like a safe bet that Martinez will opt out after the 2019 season. He can opt out after both 2019 and 2020. Doing so will almost certainly guarantee him more money than the $21 million per year his original contract pays him between 2020 and 2022.

Harper, too, would benefit from an opt-out relatively early in his next contract. He is 26 years old. If his next contract permits him to opt out after four years, then you have a superstar revisiting free agency at age 30, the age when most players get their first big free-agent payday. Structuring a contract this way could allow Harper to earn, say, $160 million over the first four years of his deal, before allowing him to opt out and extend his contract even further.

The reason players and agents like opt-out clauses are because the player controls everything. If he gets hurt or underperforms, he just chooses to not exercise it and plays out his contract. If he stays healthy or overperforms, he can go earn more.

From a team standpoint, an opt-out is usually a negative. For the Phillies, with someone like Harper, it could mean having him for a few years only to lose him when the team is on the brink of World Series contention. It's a headache, one that a team guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars probably won't want to deal with.

But Boras, of course, is a tough negotiator.

Just know that when you hear contract lengths like 10 years, 12 years, seven years, the length of time won't be as much a consideration as the per-year earning power of Harper's deal. Beating Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million will sound great for Harper and Boras, but $40 million a year would sound better. (Stanton is making $25M per year.)

It would seem the Phillies do have an easier path to landing Harper than landing Machado because of Machado's desire to play for the Yankees. There just isn't that same connection between Harper and a team pursuing him. The Phils' biggest competition will be the allure of the Dodgers. And if Machado does end up in the Bronx, it's hard to envision the White Sox sufficiently outbidding the Phillies, who are a couple years closer to contention.

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Joe Girardi impressed with Jean Segura, smitten with Phillies catching prospect Rafael Marchan

Joe Girardi impressed with Jean Segura, smitten with Phillies catching prospect Rafael Marchan

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Six games into the exhibition schedule, Joe Girardi is really liking what he sees of two players.

One might end up being his third baseman this season.

The other will play in the low minors.

Jean Segura played well at third base in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday. He made a nifty backhand stop of a ball off the bat of Nelson Cruz to start a 5-4-3 double play in the first inning. He also had a pair of hits, including a double. He is 4 for 9 with two doubles in the early going.

“Jean had a really good day,” Girardi said. “That (double play) was not an easy play. What I like is it’s smooth, it’s not panicky. Looks like he’s been doing it.”

The Phillies are evaluating Segura’s ability to play third base. They are also taking stock of his comfort level at the position because he has never played there before. If Segura can handle third base, he will open the season there and Scott Kingery will play second base, his best position.

So far this spring, Segura has played three games at third base. If he continues to look good there, would the Phillies even bother to look at him at second, where he does have experience, this spring?

“That’s a conversation we’d have in a week or so,” Girardi said. “We have to continue to see what it looks like. Scott looks good at second. If Jean looks comfortable at third and it seems like Didi and him have a good thing going there, we might just leave him. I don’t know. It’s too early.”

Segura played shortstop for the Phillies last season. He is moving from that position to make room for Didi Gregorius, who signed a one-year, $14 million contract in December.


Girardi, who caught for 15 seasons in the big leagues, has become smitten with Rafael Marchan, a catching prospect from Venezuela who turned 21 on Tuesday.

“The kid does a lot of things right,” said Girardi.

Marchan has gotten a chance to play in big-league camp because Andrew Knapp (oblique) and Deivy Grullon (tooth infection) have missed some time.

Phillies officials felt comfortable enough with Marchan’s defense to give him the start with Zach Eflin on the mound Wednesday. Marchan responded with two hits and was praised for his work behind the plate by Eflin. Marchan had one miscue -- he overran a high, spinning pop up -- but Girardi chalked that up to inexperience.

“I told him, ‘You finally made a mistake -- the pop up,’“ Girardi said with a laugh. “He just went after it too quickly.”

Girardi called Marchan “a master” blocker of balls in the dirt earlier this week.

Marchan is a 5-foot-9 switch-hitter. He was a shortstop until he started working out for teams as a catcher in 2015 and the Phillies signed him for $200,000. He has played 136 professional games in Single A the last two seasons and hit .285. He has yet to hit a homer in pro ball, but that doesn’t concern Girardi.

“Here’s my thought,” Girardi said. “He doesn’t have to show power. He just has to hit, be an adequate hitter, or he could become a really good hitter. Take his walks, handle the bat. Defensively, he’s going to save you runs by catching. Those are RBIs for me. He’s going to save you a lot of runs catching.”

Marchan went unselected in the Rule 5 draft in December, not surprising because of his age, experience level and still-developing bat. But if he has a good year in 2020, he might not get through the draft.

Girardi thinks Marchan can develop into a big-leaguer, much like another converted infielder once did with the Phillies.

“I’m not comparing here, but Carlos Ruiz was not a great hitter when he first came up,” Girardi said. “He’s got talent and you hope he figures out the bat part of it because if he does, you have something really special.”

That’s high praise.


Girardi said Adam Haseley checked out fine in concussion protocol but would not return to action for another day or two. Haseley banged his head on the ground attempting a diving catch on Tuesday.

Outfielder Matt Szczur has yet to play because of a hamstring injury. Reliever Robert Stock has forearm pain and will be examined on Thursday.


The Phillies play the Red Sox in Fort Myers on Thursday. Nick Pivetta will start.

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Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was just one pitch in the first inning of an exhibition game Wednesday, but it painted a vivid picture of who Zach Eflin was as a pitcher last year and who he wants to be this year.

With a man on first base and one out, Eflin was facing Nelson Cruz. The Minnesota Twins’ designated hitter is one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game, having averaged 34 homers over the last 11 seasons.

The count went full on Cruz and Eflin didn’t hesitate. He went to his best pitch, the sinking fastball. Cruz beat a hard ground ball to third and Jean Segura made a nice backhand play to start a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame.

“I was pretty excited about that,” Eflin said later. “Going back to my sinker. It’s a situation where I need to throw it.”

Eflin was asked what pitch he would have thrown in that situation last season.

“Ah, last year, maybe fastball at the top of the zone,” he said. “Maybe I would have tried to rip a hard cutter or slider. Something like that.”

The sinker has always been Eflin’s bread and butter pitch. But last season, under former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young, he was encouraged to emphasize four-seam, power fastballs at the top of the strike zone. He did have some success with the approach early in the season, but eventually lost his way and his spot in the rotation. After some soul searching and some counsel from teammates such as Jake Arrieta, Eflin decided that if he ever returned to the rotation he would go back to featuring his best pitch, a fastball with movement down in the zone. He returned to the rotation in mid-August, ironically when Arrieta went down with an elbow injury, and pitched well over the final weeks of the season to solidify his place this year's season-opening rotation.

“It’s not easy,” said Eflin, recalling last season’s struggles. “When you’re trying to be someone you’re not, it’s not the best way to go about it.

“At the end of the day, we want to feel as good as we can on the mound and when you’re trying to do something different, you don’t feel good.”

With each passing day, another pitcher seems to step up and offer thoughts about how wonderful life has been under new pitching coach Bryan Price in the first few weeks of camp. Price is open-minded to the new-school ways of pitching, but he’s committed to bringing back some old-school philosophies. He has stressed the down-and-away fastball. He has stressed that pitchers work to their strengths. For Eflin, that means the sinker.

“What everybody is focused on right now is being themselves and realizing what got us to the big leagues and taking advantage of doing what you’re good at, so I think that’s a huge step for everybody,” Eflin said. “I think the underlying factor is just being able to stay to our strengths and really just attacking the hitters, and for us starters to go as deep as we can in a game and really relieve the bullpen as much as we can so they’re fresh come the end of the season and playoffs. Just that being put in our heads as a starting staff is huge.”

Though the sinker is Eflin’s strength, he still has the power on his fastball to pitch occasionally at the top of the zone. In fact, it’s important that he do that occasionally to change a hitter’s eye level and prevent them from sitting on a particular pitch or location. Eflin knows this. He learned a lot about himself and pitching last year. That much was evident in the first inning of his spring debut Wednesday: Sinker, ground ball, double play.

“Outs are really precious in this game regardless of how hard they hit it, so just to be able to do that is good,” he said.

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