WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- That didn’t take long.
Bryce Harper’s standing as the owner of the largest total contract in North American sports history lasted three weeks. Anaheim is working toward a stunning, 12-year, roughly $430 million extension with Mike Trout, according to multiple reports. The deal is trend-setting and telling. It also changes narratives for Harper.
Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, grappled for months during the most highly anticipated free agent winter in baseball history in order to get 13 years, $330 million from the Philadelphia Phillies. They landed on a record total to surpass Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension. They did so over a 13-year period. Among Harper’s first public comments was a plan to recruit Trout, a South Jersey native, to join him for a decade-plus in Philadelphia when Trout became a free agent following the 2020 season. That idea was emphatically squashed Tuesday.
Which positions Trout as the rarest of entities, and in a place Harper would have been happy to be: He owns a record-setting contract in both total and average annual value to stay with one team.
The numbers Trout received were among the projections for Harper. Years worth of chatter about his pending free agency eventually moved into a discussion about the $400 million contract range. Harper never approached the figure. His first employer made a no-chance-of-acceptance offer of 10 years, $300 million, with $100 million deferred over the course of decades (according to Harper). He finally surpassed Stanton’s total, but had to leave Washington to do so. Harper mentioned in his opening press conference his desire to remain with a single team. “It just didn’t happen,” he said.
It will for Trout, the game’s best on-field talent if an under-branded off-field one.
MLB Network was on the central flat screen inside the Nationals’ clubhouse Tuesday morning with the volume turned up after the news broke. Players paused for a glance as they walked in and out. Former Trout teammate Howie Kendrick, who spent four years in Anaheim, went into a soliloquy about how deserving Trout is when asked for his thoughts on the deal.
“I know what Mike’s doing now and what Mike can continue to do from playing with him,” Kendrick said. “He shows up every day to win. Whether that’s defensively, offensively, on the basepaths. He’s the model baseball player. That’s what it’s about. He shows up to compete every day. I feel like sometimes we get away from that. Whether clubs do or players -- but mostly, I feel like some teams are not competing. And that [deal] tells me [the Angels] want to compete for the long haul.
“I know if they didn’t pay him, there was a lot of other teams that would love to have him. That speaks volumes about the player. Being around this game, being around Mike, he has so many intangibles. The competitiveness he has ... Just goes about his business every day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not sign for fans. It’s like, man, you ever get tired? 'No, man. I do this because I want to.’ He always takes time for kids. The guy’s just been a phenomenal guy to be around. I even tried to learn things from him. I’ve been around. He goes about his business the right way. That’s what you want to see in young guys.”
Trout staying on the West Coast flushes any pursuit of a super team -- for now. Bending aspects of the collective bargaining agreement to assemble talent is much more difficult in MLB than the NBA. No one is signing consecutive 1-year deals to hop on the World Series favorite.
However, an investment in Trout is also one in attraction. It’s a big market with successful teams in the past. Games are in California. The best player in baseball will be there throughout. Any takers?
“The way I see it, he’s such a great player, why wouldn’t people want to go play with him?” Kendrick said. “With him being the type of competitor he is, I would want to play with him, I don’t know if they’re going to try to form a mega-team or not. But, obviously they’re very committed to Mike, Mike’s committed to being there, so, hey, kudos to Mike.”
Harper talked about staying in Washington at the end of last season. He put the onus ownership by wondering in interviews if “I’m in those plans” when the Lerner family assessed the future. Turns out, he was not. And after three weeks in Philadelphia, his reign as the highest-paid player closed before a month could pass. The next time he sees Trout, two baseball stars on long-term deals will meet, one in the position the other would have drawn up, if he could.
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