Welcome to the first post-Bryce article of 2019.
The Chicago Cubs strictly maintained that they were out of the Harper Sweepstakes this whole off-season. Despite the fact that they have been printing money over at Wrigley Field, despite the fact that season ticket prices have gone up the last 3 years, and despite the fact that they just rolled out a cash cow with their announced television network, they said they were broke. Laughing out loud, we still doubted them, even after seeing them pick up Cole Hamels’ $20 million option and announce that their big off-season splash signing was gonna be Daniel Descalso. We still didn’t take the hint, and we watched with great anticipation to see what suitor Bryce Harper was gonna give his rose to…
That suitor was the Philadelphia Phillies.
Maybe he likes that division. Maybe he just likes the way he looks in red. Either way, Bryce Harper will be a Phillie (or is it Philly? Help me out here, phlsportsnation.com) for as long as he chooses to be. Last week, he inked a 13 year, $330 million contract that includes a full no-trade clause and zero opt-outs. He stated his objective was to choose the team he was going to retire from.
Now, it’s not surprising that Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, held out until after Spring Training started. It’s not surprising that the delay in signing, along with Manny Machado’s negotiations, prompted the “free agency is broken” narrative again. And it’s not surprising that they got the largest guaranteed contract in the history of North American sports.
In fact, good for them!
What was surprising was the lack of opt-outs and the AAV. Opt-outs are the shiny new baby of the contract world. If a player is promised certain things in contract negotiations, and the team does not deliver them, that player can take his services elsewhere. Bryce Harper has no opt-outs and says that he is going to retire as a Phillie (or is it Philly?). Either way, his Average Annual Value (AAV) is only $21,625,000 a year. AAV is used when a team calculates their salary cap (ahem, I’m sorry… “Luxury Tax”) numbers. A contract can be structured to be front-loaded or back-loaded, but AAV is what determines the overall effect it has on payroll. And Bryce Harper’s contract is pretty darned cheap, especially is you consider that it runs through 2031. Based on the idea of Time Value of Money, it’s not a stretch to say that $21.6 million is affordable money now but likely won’t buy you much in 2031… It looks like the Phillies got a pretty good deal.
But Cubs fans enjoyed the tease. We enjoyed the fact that Bryce’s wife and Kris Bryant’s wife are best-ees. We loved that Harper named his dog “Wrigley.” We loved that he teased us with the foodie angle. Of course Chicago has that market cornered, good luck with that in Philadelphia, Bryce…
http://www.cc.com/video-clips/bs5odx/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-human-extinction-watch—you-take-it-from-here–apes (watch video from the 4:10 mark)
So he’s not a Cub. I’m OK with that if he is…
In two previous articles (seen here and here), I cautioned against Theo pushing all his chips to the center of the table. Big contracts lessen a team’s flexibility. Signing Harper would mean either eating Heyward’s contract or having to package him in a trade with someone like Schwarber or a combination of Happ and Almora. Theo liked the current lineup enough and had enough faith in them to let it ride this season.
So far, the 2019 Spring Training numbers are encouraging. Almora is hitting .320. Caratini is hitting .417. Rizzo? .333. Bryant? .316. Schwarber and Contreras are both batting over .350 and have OPS over 1.000. Bote is hitting better than Bryant did in 2015 Spring Training! The Cubs are flat-out scorching the ball.
Listen… The Cubs made the post-season last year with half of a Kris Bryant and about an eighth of a Yu Darvish. If those players are back healthy, and all accounts say that they are, then this will have the potential to be a special year. Willson Contreras is re-energized and re-focused. Cole Hamels is locked in and ready to go. Schwarber went back to his previous batting stance and is absolutely raking. And Javy Baez is likely to build on his 2018 season and do even more Javy Baez things in 2019.
There are question marks going into this season. No doubt about it. But the starting rotation is strong. The defense is going to again be stellar. And the bats look to be back. The Cubs will definitely be in the mix for the division title and another post-season appearance. That’s all we can ask for, and that’s all we were promised. We should definitely look forward to the 2019 season*.
Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies make their first Wrigley appearance on the May 20-23 homestand. See you there!
So you can have your Philadelphia Story, Bryce Harper. We’re sticking with the cast of Chicago.
Featured image courtesy imdb.com