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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Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss how Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down at the plate. Is there any connection whatsoever between spring training and regular-season productivity?

This is an important season for Nick Pivetta. Is he ready for it, and what went into naming him the starter in Game 2?

Also, an injury update on Rhys Hoskins.

1:00 — Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down.
3:00 — Any carryover between spring training and real baseball?
6:00 — Why is Nick Pivetta starting Game 2?
13:00 — Phillies want a consistent batting order.
17:00 — Is Odubel Herrera starting to "get it?"
20:00 — Update on Rhys Hoskins.
22:00 — Next Phillie in line for an extension.

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