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Phillies, Harper could be great fit

Club well positioned to pursue star outfielder
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- It seems 10 years and $300 million is the starting point in contract negotiations for free agent Bryce Harper. The Phillies are positioned as well as anybody -- maybe better than anybody -- to give him what he wants.

They just might, too. In fact, they seem to be the favorite as the GM Meetings near their Thursday conclusion in California.

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- It seems 10 years and $300 million is the starting point in contract negotiations for free agent Bryce Harper. The Phillies are positioned as well as anybody -- maybe better than anybody -- to give him what he wants.

They just might, too. In fact, they seem to be the favorite as the GM Meetings near their Thursday conclusion in California.

"Well, certainly, Harper's bazaar has begun," agent Scott Boras said Wednesday. "And it's fashionable, it's historical, it's elite, global, and certainly it has inspirations that deal with great shoes and great hair on the part of Bryce."

The Phillies have entered the bazaar, but how far will they go to sign an outfielder that Boras calls a "generational player"? The answer could mean the difference between Harper wearing red pinstripes for the next decade or watching him bash home runs elsewhere, possibly for a National League rival. The Washington Post reported this week that the Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million deal in late September. Harper and Boras promptly rejected it.

They want a record-setting contract. Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract extension with the Marlins in November 2014, which is the largest contract in history, based on overall dollars. But Boras likely wants the average annual value of Harper's contract to set a record, too. Zack Greinke's seven-year deal with the D-backs averages $34.416 million per season, which is the current record.

Imagine Harper signing at least a 10-year, $350 million deal.

Could he hit $400 million? Who knows?

Video: Harper enters free agency after 7 seasons with Nats

The Phillies have the means to get in that neighborhood. They have been gearing up for this offseason's free-agent class for years.

"Several years ago, the Phillies carried some of the highest payrolls in the game," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "Going through the rebuild, we were pretty disciplined about the contracts that we signed in order to preserve our financial flexibility for down the road. At some point, as the team gets better, we know that we're going to make those investments again to make the team good. Our ownership has demonstrated that time and time again, and now as our team has gotten better we're more open to those expensive commitments."

Only Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery are signed beyond 2020, giving Philadelphia a decent amount of financial flexibility.

"John [Middleton] and I had long conversations about the team," Boras said about the Phillies' managing partner. "He certainly illustrated his zeal and his competitiveness. He wants to get something done in Philadelphia under his ownership. That is a very driven goal of his, a very important part of what he wants to do in the future.

"What I most enjoyed about Philadelphia, in regard to John, is that when the Phillies fell out of the race, he stopped talking to the media. That kind of meant to me that he was not happy. And I certainly like owners who are not happy that they are not winning. So as far as what he's done and what his conduct is, I would say he's really illustrated that he has a winning intent."

But is Harper worth it?

He just turned 26, which makes him incredibly young. In fact, Harper is younger than Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado and Mookie Betts. Harper's 27.4 offensive WAR through his age-25 season ranks 31st in baseball history, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Of the 30 players above him, 23 are in the Hall of Fame. The only players not in the Hall of Fame are Trout, Alex Rodriguez (retired in 2016), Albert Pujols (active), Cesar Cedeno, Vada Pinson, Sherry Magee and Dick Allen.

"I know that anyone who's done what Bryce Harper has done at 25, if you've done that, you're almost a lock to be a Hall of Fame player," Boras said.

Harper will boost TV ratings. He will put people in the seats. He will sell merchandise. The Phillies had a season-ticket base of 10,500 before they signed Jim Thome in December 2002. It jumped to 13,500, but the Phillies also acquired Kevin Millwood and David Bell that offseason and were a year away from opening Citizens Bank Park in 2004.

The Phillies' season-ticket base stands at 9,500 today. It reached 28,000 during their sellout streak from July 2009 to August 2012.

Harper would help bridge that gap, although it is unclear how much.

"You have an iconic player," Boras said. "For an owner to know the rocket ship of economic opportunity is just blasting off because the player is just entering the prime of his career, you're really talking about just a unique and rare opportunity for an owner."

Harper likes the Phillies. He has told more than a few people that he likes playing at Citizens Bank Park.

It could happen 81 times a year for the next 10 years or so.

"I think everybody in the Phillies' organization, with Rhys [Hoskins], with Jake [Arrieta] and Vince [Velasquez] and Nick [Williams] and all the guys I have on the team, they're just really positive about the step they took last year, because they feel they're very, very close to being competitive and winning," Boras said.

"I think there's an expectation on all their parts that they expect this franchise and ownership, that they want to add players, great players, to their team. I think the players are excited about it, just the fact that they know the opportunity exists. There's a real positive environment ongoing there, and I think they frankly have confidence that their owner feels the same way the players do in the locker room."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper