Harper and Machado sign huge contracts
On Thursday, the baseball world finally let out a sigh of relief. With MLB spring training already underway, Bryce Harper finally, finally got off the market and signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, setting the record for the largest contract in baseball history, and the second largest in the history of sports.
Though Harper isn’t the Tom Brady or Lebron James of the MLB (Mike Trout wears the crown as the best player in baseball), he matches them with name recognition as one of the biggest stars in the sport. The reaction to the contract reflects that: the Phillies sold 100,000 tickets less than 24 hours after the news broke and the Phillies’ World Series odds jumped from 14 to 1 up to 10 to 1.
Though the contract’s numbers are eye-popping, both Harper and the Phillies got what they want. The contract comes with no opt-outs for Harper — something he demanded — as well as more than 10 seasons. In Philadelphia, Harper wants to win championships, of course, but there is also something he craved that he got: stability, a team to play for the rest of his career.
The Phillies are based in one of the biggest markets in the country, but they have maintained a relatively low payroll the last few years compared to the huge payrolls of teams like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. They can more than afford Harper, and he gives them what they want: star power and a better roster with a chance to contend for the World Series. He’s a streaky player, with the highest of highs like his unanimous MVP season in 2015 and the lows of bad hitting and abysmal defense of last season. But he’s young, only 26 years old, and undoubtedly makes the Phillies a better team.
The other big free agent of the year was star shortstop Manny Machado, who signed with the San Diego Padres on Feb. 20 with a 10-year $300 million contract (which was the biggest free agent contract in history before Harper’s). Machado, after spending the first six-and-a-half years of his career in Baltimore, was traded to the Dodgers last season for the team’s (failed) World Series push. As a shortstop, he has more value as a position player on defense than Harper, an outfielder, and is nearly as young. He hasn’t won an MVP and doesn't have as much star power, but he makes the Padres, a team that lost 96 games last season, instantly better.
Much of the glacial pace of this off-season’s free agency market has been discussed and dissected. Teams have been scared off by previous blockbuster contracts that weren’t worth it, like Albert Pujols' contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Other teams, like the New York Mets, have historically frugal ownership who don’t seem to want to commit to spending in order to win. Both Harper’s and Machado’s contracts contradict these reasons, but they are the rare exception, not the rule. They are young superstars who have high enough ceilings that the possible floors are worth the risk.
Other players don’t get contracts for double-digit years, or $300 million. Reliever Craig Kimbrel, coming off a World Series win with the Boston Red Sox, is still a free agent, as is Dallas Keuchel, a recent Cy Young winner and former Houston Astros ace (before they got Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole). Pitcher Gio Gonzalez and outfielder Adam Jones are still on the market, but at 33, they are both nearer to the end of their careers.
As Opening Day on March 28 inches closer, the two biggest names are finally signed, and the other names will probably start to fall over the next few weeks. Will Harper help the Phillies win a World Series? With Machado lead the Padres out of perpetual mediocrity into real contention? We’ll see soon enough this season, and over the next decade.