Scott Boras

The complete timeline of Phillies' path to Signing Harper

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 annually 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.

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Bryce Harper looks to find roots and rings in Philly

Bryce Harper looks to find roots and rings in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was a day Bryce Harper seemed destined for as far back as when he was wowing the travel-ball circuit with his tape-measure homers as a 14-year-old back home in Las Vegas and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16.

Harper officially became owner of the richest contract in American sports history when the Phillies announced his 13-year, $330 million deal in a sun-splashed news conference at Spectrum Field on Saturday afternoon.

The event capped a week of intense negotiations between the Phillies and Harper. The Phillies had pursued the free-agent slugger for weeks but did not make an official offer until Sunday, after both sides had gathered extensive intel on each other. There was optimism of getting a deal done on Monday. That was followed by uncertainty on Tuesday and pessimism on Wednesday (see story).

Finally, the two sides agreed on Thursday and, "The maestro got his Harp."

That's how agent Scott Boras described Phillies managing partner John Middleton's pursuit of the 26-year-old Harper.

Boras has always had a way with words, not to mention negotiations. Back in November, he launched "Harper's Bazaar" and this week it all landed in Philadelphia. Not San Francisco. Not Los Angeles. Not back in Washington. Harper wanted to get paid, as they say, but he also wanted something else: To stay in one place for a good, long time. His wife, Kayla, seconded that. In addition to a record amount of cash — stupid money, some might say — he gets that opportunity for 13 years in Philadelphia.

"Beyond the money, years were important to me, being able to put down some roots and grow a family," Harper said. "At the end of this, I could have a couple of kids and they could be able to say they're from Philly."

Yo!

Harper plays with a grimace, a scowl and a competitive sneer. There was none of that Saturday. He smiled easily — yeah, we know, you'd smile, too, if … — and was very articulate in saying the type of things that Philadelphia fans will like to hear.

He called J.T. Realmuto, the Phillies' new catcher, his favorite player in baseball.

He pushed the bounds of tampering by openly wishing that a certain player from Millville, New Jersey, might become a Phillie in two years.

He said he did not want one of those famous opt-out clauses that his man, Boras, invented years ago because he's committed to being a Phillie and winning in Philadelphia.

"For me, it's all about winning," he said. "That's what you're remembered for."

He said he was eager to hang with the Phanatic. He said Gritty was "ugly." (Don't worry, orange fella, that was a compliment. We think.)

With his parents seated a few feet away, he talked about his upbringing.

"I come from a blue-collar family," Harper said. "My dad woke up at 3 in the morning to tie rebar every single day in 130-degree heat in Vegas. That's where I get my work ethic. That's what I want to do every single day. I want to work hard. I want to work out. I want to do the things I can to prolong my career and to play for a very long time and be successful for a very long time."

He has already consulted Tom Brady — several times — about the keys to playing (and producing) into his 40s.

As of nightfall Saturday, the Phillies had sold more than 220,000 tickets since reaching the agreement with Harper on Thursday.

But Middleton does not look at Harper as a marketing tool. (And neither does GM Matt Klentak, who has had a great winter in adding two former MVPs in Harper and Andrew McCutchen, a hits machine shortstop in Jean Segura and the best catcher in baseball in Realmuto.) The rebuild is over. It's time to get Middleton's bleeping trophy back.

Middleton told Boras as much in a meeting last month.

"I said, 'Scott, I want to tell you something: I'm not interested in talking about marketing dollars, tickets sold, billboards, concessions,'" Middleton said in a conversation with reporters moments after the news conference. "I said, 'There's only one reason I'm talking to you, and that's because I believe this guy can help us win, and that's all I care about.' I said, 'I've made enough money in my life. I don't need to make more.' I said, 'My franchise value has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. I don't need it to rise more. If it does, fine. I'm here to win. And I think your guy can help me win, and that's all I want to talk about.'

"In Philadelphia, you put a winning product on the field, they are behind you 1,000 percent. That's all I care about. And frankly, all I really care about is getting that trophy — I can't say the real word — but that trophy."

Harper said his goal was to do just that.

He will strive to reach that goal wearing No. 3. He made his name in No. 34, but that's headed for the rafters in honor of Hall of Famer Roy Halladay.

"Roy Halladay should be the last Phillie to wear No. 34," Harper said in the very ballpark where the pitcher was remembered in a moving memorial service 15 months ago.

Harper chose No. 3 because it was the number his dad and brother wore in high school.

The fans in right field at Citizens Bank Park should get ready to see a lot of that number over the next 13 seasons.

It all starts March 28, opening day.

"I'm excited for that 1:05 against the Braves," Bryce Harper said with a smile.

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Exclusive video of Bryce Harper landing in Florida, greeting Phillies brass

Exclusive video of Bryce Harper landing in Florida, greeting Phillies brass

Updated: 11:23 p.m.

Bryce Harper has landed.

While the deal hasn’t been officially announced yet by the team (Harper still has to pass his physical, a formality), Harper, his family and agent Scott Boras landed safely Friday at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport ahead of reporting to Phillies camp.

The team then tweeted this late Friday night:

Exclusive video of Harper and company getting off Phillies owner John Middleton’s plane to greet team brass, including Middleton, general manager Matt Klentak and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, brings us close to what we have all been waiting for — seeing Harper roam right field in red pinstripes.

Harper exited the plane holding his baseball gloves and later fetched a bag with a Phillies logo on it and a box that looks like it contains his bats. The embrace between Harper, Boras and his family was warm and a beautiful beginning of a 13-year relationship forged over months of anxious moments and meetings with the hopes of culminating in one, or more, trips down Broad Street.

What’s next?

Harper will likely have a physical with the team before an official announcement, and finally, watching him trot out to his position or strut to the batter's box for the very first time representing the city of Philadelphia.

This is it, Bryce Harper and his family are here to stay and part of the fabric of our city for more than a decade.

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