Phillies

Phillies

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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