A few observations about Bryce Harper before Opening Day (long post and expecting about two people will read this – feels like an exorcism just before the season starts):
Bryce won. $330,000,000 reasons prove this. During negotiations it is difficult to prioritize multiple objectives. Appears Bryce had one objective, to get the most money. He achieved his goal. He held this record for two weeks. Bryce can celebrate for a long, long time… at least three generations.
Interesting that Bryce didn’t choose to bet on himself. He could have signed a shorter-term contract worth almost $45M per year with subsequent free agent opportunities. If Bryce wasn’t willing to take this risk to make more overall money during his career, is it surprising that more teams didn’t offer the longer ten to thirteen-year contract with the money to take a similar risk? During the start of the hot stove season the Phillies set-up their fan base for a big free agent ‘catch’. Phillies management could not risk letting Bryce Harper get away. Will he be worth it? We will know that answer in thirteen years when Bryce is 39, or perhaps much earlier.
From the Nationals perspective, losing Bryce is watching the trophy from the 2009 season with 103 losses walk out the door. The Nationals will face Bryce for 13 years x 19 games/year x an average 4 plate appearances per game = 988 plate appearances against the Nationals. Let us say 1,000 times during the rest of Bryce’s career, with about 500 of those at the plate in Nationals Park. Will be interesting. Will Nationals fans cheer for him, stay silent or boo? Phillies fans booed Jayson Werth when he stepped up to the plate for years, and the Phillies hadn’t even offered Jayson a contract that he could have turned down. Certainly, some of those old Philly fan buses are firing up their engines. Notable Nationals’ player trips south in 2011 and now north in 2019 on Interstate 95. Game on!
The Las Vegas Golden Knights inaugural season was last year. Bryce was as excited as anyone to have his first hometown professional team. It was an extraordinary coincidence that the Knights and the Capitals met in the Stanley Cup Championship. I know Bryce took ribbing from teammates for rooting for his new hometown team after previous seasons rooting for the Capitals. Hey, Ovechkin who? Must have chafed Bryce a bit to see Max Scherzer & Ryan Zimmerman donning Caps helmets, holding hockey sticks and yelling “Let’s go Caps!!!” contrasted with his one-season, deep loyalty to ‘his’ team during the hockey playoffs.
Was this a factor in Bryce leaving DC? Who knows? It certainly didn’t help from Bryce’s perspective. At least Bryce now knows what it is like to experience loyalty to a hometown team. Maybe last September Bryce was picturing in his mind how far he could have hit that second ‘first pitch’ from Ovechkin that went right over the plate at Nationals Park. Perhaps seeing an image of facing another pitcher throwing from that mound in a Nationals jersey at a future date.
The Nationals effective offer to Bryce as last season expired was about $285M for 10 years. A counteroffer from Bryce’s camp might have sealed the deal for $300M over 10 years. Instead, Bryce let the uncertainty of another weird off-season fester and arrived in Phillies camp well after their start. For this delay and relocation, he picked up an extra $30M for the last three contract years with the Phillies, up to age 39. $10M per year when it will be worth about $8M. He also lost any opportunity for an opt-out clause when he revealed to the Phillies that his goal was to set the contract record price. No trade close and no opt-out makes for a beautiful pair of key-less golden handcuffs. Surely not feeling sorry for Bryce.
A question arises with Bryce at age 26 with the amount of play his body has taken that must add a couple years to his physical age. He already has lots of extra mileage and wear and tear on his body compared to other players his age given his rapid advancement. Also, the body ultimately pays a price for hitting 450-foot homers.
The Nationals most likely will not miss Bryce’s defense. Whether the ‘sun monster’ or other issues that are not surprising for a converted catcher-to-outfielder. Jayson Werth might be illustrative as another catcher-to-outfielder convert with later career defensive issues. Unlikely that Bryce’s defense will get better with age. Am not sure he will be a gold-glove first baseman in a few years. Am sure he will have great conversations with baserunners at first base. Also, Nationals fans probably will not miss making excuses for his baserunning.
Bryce, most of us will still miss you but am betting we will be happy we don’t have those long-term paychecks for our team. These rarely have worked out well in MLB. Would have been a bit nicer if you had taken out that full-page ad to say thanks to your legion of fans in DC. We never really had a chance to say goodbye. Many young kids in the area grew up with you, and older kids loved you too in DC. Perhaps your youth spent with short stints on travel teams and long flights to mercenary tournaments puts your frequent praise of DC fans in proper context as the negotiating ploy it seems to have been. Been done by so many other players. Just another reminder that fans of professional sports rarely factor into the equation.
Probably indicative that the quintessential Harper memory will be of him winning the Home Run Derby in his home ballpark. A magical event that his departure should not diminish within his truncated snapshot of Nationals greatness. Perhaps also indicative that Bryce shines brightest in individual-centered events, like self-promotion, rather than in the accomplishments of what is really a team sport. Bryce departed with his question “where’s his (team) trophy” still unanswered. He said he had a dream of participating in a DC parade to help long-suffering DC fans. Guess he never received an invitation to join the Capitals and fans last fall travel down Constitution Avenue.
The Nationals should have a dugout full of motivated players itching to prove that their success over the past few years was not just Harper-driven. Seems the end-result for this year is the Nationals ‘traded’ Harper for Corbin and Suzuki. Are the Nationals better or worse? We all get to see, starting tomorrow! Play ball!!!