corey seidman

The complete timeline of Phillies' path to Signing Harper

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The complete timeline of Phillies' path to Signing Harper

Phillies fans will never forget this offseason. Two surprising and impressive trades, a couple big signings of veterans, and the long, winding, ultimately successful path to bringing Bryce Harper aboard.

On Tuesday at 8 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia premieres "Signing Harper," a one-hour documentary focusing on the behind-the-scenes process for the Phillies to land their man. There will be exclusive interviews with Harper, his agent Scott Boras, Phillies managing partner John Middleton and his wife Leigh, and more.

The path to Harper wasn't easy. Free agency opened on Oct. 29 and Harper agreed to his deal with the Phillies on Feb. 28. Four whole months of false starts and social media sleuthing from information-starved fans. Harper knew all along the process would likely linger into February or March.

Let's take a look back:

September 2018 — Nats make an offer

The Nationals reportedly offer Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract, which he rejects. The deal, Harper would later say, included $100 million in deferred money that he'd receive at age 65. 

Deferalls are nothing new to the Nationals, who have used them in the contracts for Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin and even on a one-year deal for Brian Dozier this winter.

It never made sense for Harper to forgo free agency and the bidding war that would ensue.

Oct. 29 — The market opens

Free agency begins — three words that mean a lot less in baseball than in basketball and football. The absence of a salary cap or salary floor in MLB causes players to linger on the open market. At least a dozen teams had no interest in spending this winter, and some of the most aggressive pursuers of Harper and Manny Machado did not emerge until the end.

Nov. 16 — "Stupid money"

Middleton tells USA Today that the Phillies are "expecting to spend money and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."

The quote goes viral and is repeated on Philadelphia airwaves every day for nearly four months.

In the end, the exorbitant sum of money was spent in a shrewd way.

Dec. 11 — McCutchen gets paid

The Phillies sign Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract, beginning the process of reworking their outfield. Was it more than most anticipated McCutchen would receive? Yes. Looking at this offseason retrospectively, it was a necessary move. The Phils could have gone with Michael Brantley on a two-year deal closer to $30 million, but there is a case to be made that McCutchen fits this team better because he's substantially more durable.

Dec. 3 — Phillies acquire Segura

Out of nowhere, the Phillies ship Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford off to Seattle in exchange for Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos.

In one fell swoop, Phils GM Matt Klentak turned two weaknesses — shortstop and the non-fit of Rhys Hoskins in left field — into a strength. Maybe someday Crawford will pan out in the big leagues. He will open 2019 in the Mariners' minor-league system. There is no question Segura is the better hitter and defender at this point, and at 29, Segura fits well into the Phillies' timeline to contend.

Dec. 11 — Phils meet with Boras

The Phillies meet with Boras to discuss Harper and Zach Britton. The Phillies had interest in Britton in the summer of 2018 as well but he went to the Yankees both times.

Dec. 20 — Machado makes his visit

The Phillies host Manny Machado, initially believed to be their on-field preference over Harper, for a visit. A construction worker yells at Machado to "Do the right thing and sign!"

Machado leaves Philly without a contract and takes two more months to make his decision.

Jan. 7 — Phillies set meeting with Harper

The Phillies firm up their meeting with Harper, which takes place five days later in Las Vegas. No offer is made ... yet.

Jan. 29 — Does Vegas know something?

The Phillies' World Series odds are changed to 12/1, fifth-shortest in MLB and a surprising figure for a team coming off an 80-win season. Fans speculate that Vegas has to know something.

In reality, betting sites were protecting themselves by making the Phils' odds so short, in case they did land Harper or Machado. 

Feb. 7 — Phillies make a huge trade

Acquiring J.T. Realmuto would be the top move for almost every other team in baseball this offseason. It turned out not to be for the Phillies, who acquired the best catcher in baseball exactly three weeks before agreeing to their deal with Harper.

Jorge Alfaro and top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez were shipped to the Marlins for the All-Star catcher. Realmuto will bat fifth for the Phillies and has a chance to do things at the plate he couldn't in Miami, where the ballpark is cavernous and the lineup protection was nonexistent.

Feb. 19 — Machado mania ends

Machado signs a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres, who did not emerge as a serious player for him until mid-January.

There is reason to believe that members of the Phillies' front office preferred Machado over Harper at one point, but that shifted as the offseason wore on and Phillies people saw how much the fanbase preferred Harper and how much of an economic boost Harper would provide over Machado.

Feb. 22 — Nats close the door on Harper

Nats owner Mark Lerner says on NBC Sports Washington that the Nationals have "moved on" from Harper, removing one major threat for the Phillies.

"We've moved on. We had to," Lerner said. "There was no way we could wait around. ... We've filled out our roster."

Feb. 22 — Air Middleton lands in Vegas again

Middleton meets with Harper and Boras a second time. Middleton's wife, Leigh, and Harper's wife, Kayla, are present. No deal is struck, but the right impression is made on both sides.

Feb. 25 — Have Phillies lost Harper sweepstakes?

Tension grips Phillies camp as their lead in the race for Harper appears to shrink with the Dodgers and Giants negotiating with Harper in a meaningful way.

All along, it was assumed that Harper would prefer one of the California teams because of the short trips between his Vegas home, spring training in Arizona and the regular season in Cali. 

All along, most misread Harper's priorities. Geography and opt-outs didn't matter nearly as much as the baseball world believed.

Feb. 28 — It finally happens

A historic end to the month of February for the Phillies, who reach a 13-year, $330 million contract with Harper.

The total money was on par with expectations but the years were not. The shocking 13-year deal pays Harper an average of $25.38 million per year, more money than he'll ever be able to spend but not enough annualy to prohibit the Phils from making necessary signings and extensions in the years to come.

March 1 — Inside the negotiations

Jim Salisbury takes us inside the Phillies' negotiation process with Harper, which included a 15-year offer, a short contract at an astronomical price and more. Some incredible details here.

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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Mike Trout extension makes Bryce Harper deal look even better — and not because of the $

Mike Trout extension makes Bryce Harper deal look even better — and not because of the $

Just within the last month, the baseball world has seen Manny Machado sign a 10-year deal, Nolan Arenado sign an eight-year extension, Bryce Harper sign a 13-year deal and Mike Trout re-up for 12 total years.

Tuesday's stunner with Trout gave Phillies fans yet another reason to love the Harper deal. Not necessarily because it's for $100 million less — Trout is the superior player and has been much more consistent year to year, so it stands to reason he'd make so much more than Harper. But because it's yet another potential superstar free agent who's already off the board. 

If the Phillies didn't sign Harper when they did, it would have become increasingly difficult for them to land that game-breaking superstar over the next few years, when their window to win is so wide open. It was crucial to get this superstar now, while guys like J.T. Realmuto ($5.9 million), Rhys Hoskins (less than $1 million) and Aaron Nola ($4.5M) are as inexpensive as they currently are.

Next winter's class

The top-end group of free agents after the 2019 season potentially includes Xander Bogaerts (27), Paul Goldschmidt (32), Anthony Rendon (30), Jose Abreu (33), maybe Matt Carpenter (34), maybe J.D. Martinez (32), Nicholas Castellanos (28) and Yasiel Puig (29).

As in, not the same caliber of players, not as young as Harper and Machado this offseason, or both. The Nationals are expected to re-sign Rendon. The Cardinals probably won't let Goldschmidt walk away after trading two good young pieces for him in December. The Red Sox are unlikely to let Martinez walk if he opts out of his deal. 

The other guys — Castellanos, Puig, Abreu, Carpenter — are not stars. They don't have the talent and certainly aren't the draws that Harper is.

Guys keep re-upping

With Arenado and Trout staying put, the next superstar position player free agent will be Mookie Betts after the 2020 season ... if he doesn't extend first. It would make zero sense for a team as rich and successful as the Red Sox to let Betts, their best player, walk. You may see Boston lose Bogaerts this offseason if the price tag rises to a number that would make it harder to keep Betts. 

George Springer? He's also set for free agency after 2020, but again, very good player, just not a superstar. 

Jacob deGrom and Trevor Bauer, two of the best seven starting pitchers in baseball, are also set for free agency after 2020. It's unclear whether the Mets will be able to keep deGrom, and the Indians sure don't look like they'll be breaking the bank for Bauer, a notorious headache. Both are clear difference-makers, just not everyday contributors. DeGrom will be 32.5 years old if/when he hits free agency.

Three years out

The 2021-22 free-agent class looks impressive now, but again, some guys might not reach that point. Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager all could be out there. Same with Noah Syndergaard and a few stud veteran pitchers like Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Zack Greinke.

A team in the Phillies' position wasn't going to kick the can down the road for three more seasons but they may have been forced to if they didn't land Harper. The other option would have been trading away a lot of young talent for a good player on a bad team, but that would have further thinned the farm system and made it harder for the Phillies to extend their window beyond, say, five years.

Instead, the Phillies are well-positioned to win now and win in the future, and they could use that 2021-22 free-agent class to supplement their core rather than define it.

While the Trout fantasy ended on Tuesday, it at least gives the city even more of a reason to focus on the guys who are already here. This team, if things break right over the next handful of years, could find itself in position to win it all, even though the prodigal son never came "home."

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