CLEARWATER, Fla. – Scott Boras could see in John Middleton’s eyes and hear in his voice that he wanted Bryce Harper.
“You could clearly see the maestro wanted to build the championship symphony -- ‘I want the Harp,’” Boras said following Harper’s introductory news conference at Spectrum Field on Saturday afternoon. “And the Philly Harp-monic was built.”
Ah, if it were only that easy to close a 13-year, $330 million contract. The Phillies and Boras had been talking for months, but there were stretches when the sides did not communicate. The Phillies chose not to meet Harper during the Winter Meetings, talking instead to Boras and his associates. They visited Harper and his wife, Kayla, for the first time in January, and it went well. They met Boras again last month in Florida before Middleton and his wife, Leigh, flew to Las Vegas to have dinner with the Harpers on Feb. 22.
The Middletons had been scheduled to leave early on Feb. 23, but Middleton instead had breakfast with Boras before lunch with the Harpers.
“John did an amazing job of answering all of Bryce’s questions, and you can see the melding of what Bryce hoped to find out in free agency and the fact that he and Kayla were going to be in a community for a long time, and that was an important aspect,” Boras said. “The next day, John and Leigh canceled their flight, decided to have lunch again with the Harper family, and wanted to express that they listened and they heard things.”
The Phillies made their first formal contract offer last Sunday.
That’s right, last Sunday.
“It was four days,” Middleton said about the contract negotiations with Boras. “Everything up until last Sunday afternoon were discussions. Now they were a critically important part of the negotiation. But it's not the way most people would think of it, like 'Here's an offer, here's a counterproposal, here's a third and here's a fourth.' We spent a lot of time talking about needs and wants and talking about different structures.
“When we got to the point where we were actually making an official offer, we were 80 percent of the way down the road, maybe more. So the actual time where we say, 'Hey, we're putting it on paper,' that paper was summarized in two months' worth of conversations.”
The Phillies felt pretty confident on Monday and Tuesday that they would sign Harper, but frustration built at Spectrum Field on Wednesday. The Dodgers and Giants had entered the picture, and there were reports that the Giants had made at least a 10-year offer.
It turns out they offered a reported 12-year, $310 million contract.
“Throughout the process there were ups and downs, but I don’t think that makes it all that unique,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “In negotiations, whether it’s the largest contract in the history of baseball or something far smaller, you’re always going to have those moments. I won’t comment on Wednesday night specifically, but I think throughout the process we had some encouraging moments and some not-so-encouraging moments. But the bottom line is that at the very end, we got where we needed to be.”
Said Boras: “While there were times where we ended phone calls, there was always a reason to pick up and make another one. That’s the reason this deal got done.”
Pessimism turned to optimism on Thursday. Boras called Klentak in the morning, and they started to move toward a deal, agreeing on the length of the contract and bumping up the average annual value to $25.4 million. The conversations moved so quickly that Klentak never had time to shower or shave.
He also never made it to the ballpark. Klentak, who has been orchestrating the Phillies’ rebuild since he got the job in October 2015, closed the biggest contract in baseball history at his condo near Clearwater Beach.