If they could not sign either superstar, they believed they could sign another one.
One of those superstars fell off the board Tuesday, when ESPN.com and MLB Network reported that Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado agreed to an eight-year, $260 million contract extension. It is the highest average annual value for a position player in baseball history at $32.5 million per season, surpassing Miguel Cabrera's $31 million average annual value in an eight-year, $248 million contract extension with the Tigers in 2014.
Arenado’s extension could affect the Phillies’ thinking and negotiations with Harper. The Phils have considered Arenado and Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon as free-agent options following the 2019 season, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts following the '20 season and Francisco Lindor following the '21 season.
But perhaps more elite players like Arenado will begin to sign multiyear extensions before they hit free agency, understanding that free agency at age 30 and older is no longer the cash cow of the past. Aaron Nola, Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks, Miles Mikolas, Whit Merrifield, Jose Martinez, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler have all signed extensions recently. If Rendon follows Arenado’s path and signs an extension with the Nationals before the end of the season, it means the Phillies would have to wait two more seasons before they could pursue players like Trout and Betts.
A lot can happen in two seasons. And while everybody believes Trout would be a perfect fit in Philly, there is no guarantee he will hit market. And if he does, there likely will be many more teams involved than there are for Harper.
So perhaps the Phillies feel more urgency to make a Harper deal happen, knowing this might be their best shot to land a star.
Harper’s agent Scott Boras probably saw Arenado’s $32.5 million AAV and smiled. He already wanted to beat Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract signed last week with the Padres, and Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract extension signed with the Marlins in 2014.
Boras will use Arenado’s deal to reinforce his contract demands.
But the Phillies still believe they are the only team willing to offer Harper more than $300 million. Will they feel compelled to bid against themselves to get a deal done?
There has been a sense that negotiations could wrap up before the end of the week, possibly within the next 24 to 48 hours. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Monday that the Phillies remain the only team talking to Boras about a long-term deal for Harper. The Dodgers and Giants are believed to be in the mix on short-term contracts.
If that holds true, Harper has a choice to make: Take the biggest deal with the Phillies or take a smaller deal with the Dodgers or Giants, but play closer to his hometown of Las Vegas.