Manny Machado wasn't the only player Bryce Harper was competing with this offseason to land the biggest contract. Nolan Arenado, though he wasn't a free agent, was also on track to get paid this winter and did he ever.
Arenado and the Rockies are finalizing an eight-year extension worth $260 million, according to multiple reports. The deal's annual average is $32.5 million, a major-league record for a position player.
There is an opt-out provision after three seasons, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, a key inclusion based on what it could mean for Harper.
The risk of waiting
Arenado was set to become a free agent after the 2019 season but the Rockies couldn't let him walk.
His extending early shows the risk of waiting for future free agents when a superstar like Harper is available now. Mookie Betts and Mike Trout line up as the next two elite free agents (after 2020) but there's no certainty either reaches the open market. The deep-pocketed Red Sox will do everything it takes to retain Betts. While Trout is expected to get to free agency, the competition for him will be fierce and much more crowded than the markets were for Machado and Harper this offseason.
One of the most important aspects of this offseason for the Phillies has been the reluctance of teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs to woo the top two free agents. The Dodgers were believed to be in that group, too, before re-emerging in the race for Harper. All of those teams and many others will pursue Trout if/when he becomes available.
Arenado's impact on Harper market
Scott Boras' goals with the Harper deal aren't too difficult to decipher. He'll want Harper's deal to exceed Machado's $300 million, Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million and now Arenado's $32.5M per year.
A 10-year, $330 million deal would accomplish all three goals, but Harper's camp is likely seeking even more than that. The magic number seems closer to $360 million. It's unclear if the Phillies will go that high since it doesn't appear any other organization can.
Arenado's ability to opt out of his contract after three years might not be all that meaningful for him. It gives him flexibility, but three years from now he'll be entering his age-31 season. Is he really going to find a better deal at that point than Years 4-8 of the record-setting one he's about to sign?
Harper is 18 months younger than Arenado. For Harper, opting out after three years would make him a free agent at 29. He'd be in position to find another huge contract if the first three years of his next deal go well. Though again, Harper might not be able to find more money than he'd be due to make in Year 4 and beyond of the contract he signs this offseason.
In any event, Harper and Boras will seek that opt-out and probably multiple opt-outs during the life of a long-term contract from the Phillies. It gives the player protection if he underperforms but freedom if he overperforms. It's a concession the Phillies have likely known all winter they'll have to make if they want Harper.
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