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For Phillies fans, Bryce is worth the wait

@castrovince
March 2, 2019

The news might have led to a frantic rush to delete those hasty tweets of hatred that had sprouted from many a Philadelphia fan when Bryce Harper appeared to be slipping out of the Phillies’ grasp earlier in the week, but the awkwardness is worth the outcome. Harper, via a

The news might have led to a frantic rush to delete those hasty tweets of hatred that had sprouted from many a Philadelphia fan when Bryce Harper appeared to be slipping out of the Phillies’ grasp earlier in the week, but the awkwardness is worth the outcome. Harper, via a 13-year commitment worth a record-setting $330 million, is set to move from America’s capital to its birthplace, and this is Independence Day for all of us who spent our winter glued to our social-media feeds for any indication of where this generational talent might land.

We were suckers for every “source.” We let the “MLB: The Show” Twitter account hold us hostage with its teases. We tried to find deep meaning in Harper’s wife’s Instagram love for Chicago or an LED banner that briefly featured Harper’s name on the United Center or the Harpers’ New Year’s Eve bash with the Bryants. We took note when Harper unfollowed Washington Capitals players or when he donned a Mighty Ducks jersey, as if that meant anything at all. We followed the whereabouts of John Middleton’s private jet as if it were Air Force One.

So, yes, it feels good to be free of all that nonsense. But none of us feel as good as the Philly faithful, who had long ago circled this free-agent period as the payoff after years of subpar showings in the standings. It was rough when Manny Machado went to San Diego, and it was downright dire when the Dodgers and Giants appeared to be upping their offers. There was a point this week in which Harper-to-Philadelphia seemed to have morphed from foregone conclusion to “And the Academy Award for Best Picture goes to ‘La La Land!’”-level deke. Hence the angry tweets emanating from the entire eastern half of Pennsylvania.

Now that it’s done, should all that internet ire that was (briefly) directed at Bryce give way to an absolute embrace? Is this deal a good one for the Phils?

In a word, yes.

When Machado inked his pact with the Padres last week, I wrote about the regret that could quickly overtake the optimism. Though the hand-wringing over “Johnny Hustle” was overblown, the fact of the matter is that the Padres are steaming toward franchise-record payroll territory, and, with so much already invested in Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers, only time will tell if they will do what it takes to continue to bring in championship-caliber pieces around those players or if their entire financial plan is dependent upon hit-or-miss prospect pieces.

Best- and worst-case scenarios for Harper

The Phillies’ spending history compels nowhere near as many questions. The reason their fans were so emotionally invested in this winter is the club had significantly scaled back its financial investments the last few seasons. The “stupid” money being taken on this winter, as Middleton so famously termed it at the start of the Hot Stove season, amounts to nothing more than a return to past levels -- levels that took shape even before a gargantuan local TV contract kicked in. Furthermore, even with Harper in tow, the Phillies are still well under the luxury-tax threshold for 2019, and the reportedly front-loaded nature of the Harper deal should provide them flexibility in his later years, when his paycheck likely outpaces his performance.

It was certainly surprising that Harper’s deal didn’t come with any opt-outs or the team “opt-in” that has colored other recent Scott Boras-negotiated contracts, including Jake Arrieta’s with the Phillies a year ago. And in agreeing to a 13-year deal that reduced his average annual value to a “measly” $25.4 million (as opposed to what would have been a record-breaking AAV for a position player if this were a 10-year, $330 million deal), Harper helps the Phillies immensely in the luxury-tax calculation moving forward.

So the financials, immense though they may be, all fit the framework of a club that won’t be totally bogged down by a single player, even as he experiences the inevitable age regression that awaits him after he reaches the dreaded 3-0.

Oh, but that’s the best part about this deal, in case you somehow weren’t already aware: Harper’s only 26. He is younger than Kris Bryant, Christian Yelich and Aaron Judge. He is only 152 days older than Rhys Hoskins. And that age will work in his favor in terms of accumulating surplus value over the next few seasons.

If Harper, for instance, is the 5-win player Steamer projects him to be in 2019, his value will basically be double his average annual salary. Receiving that surplus value on the front half of this contract (you can check out a full range of potential projections here) will make it easier for the Phillies to stomach the pain of the back half. (Or, you know, they can just try to trade him before the back half arrives, though Harper’s deal did come with a full no-trade clause.)

And acquiring a player with Harper’s Q score (as recently as 2016, he was rated the most recognizable player in MLB) has marketing implications that further offset the expense.

None of this is to say Harper is a perfect player. His track record has actually been erratic, to date. His walk year was muddled by a frustrating first half at the plate and some damning defensive metrics (though as our own Mike Petriello explained, that’s complicated). His swing and tendencies have been exploited, to a degree, by shifts and increased velocity. For all we know, he might never win another MVP (though I happen to think he will).

But just as the temporary acrimony Phillies fans extended toward Bryce earlier this week was understandable, so too, is the sheer satisfaction that has arisen now. One of the game’s marquee players made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he has committed to the red pinstripes (and all the next-level fan demands that come with them) for the rest of his career. That’s something to celebrate in Philadelphia.

And the rest of us can celebrate, too, because now we can get back to focusing on balls and strikes instead of Bryce and Manny. Let the Liberty Bell ring!

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.