The 2018-2019 offseason’s most epic saga has come to an end. Bryce Harper has made his decision, inking a record-breaking thirteen-year, $330 million commitment with the Philadelphia Phillies this afternoon. The Phillies had long been rumored to be the favorites for the lefty slugger, but there were reports that Harper was perhaps not keen on playing in Philadelphia and the Giants and Dodgers had cropped up recently as alternative suitors.
If there were any misgivings between the two sides or any doubts regarding Harper’s enthusiasm about Philadelphia, however, they are erased with this contract—the largest in American professional sports history, topping Giancarlo Stanton’s deal with the Marlins in 2014. It includes no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. While the length of the contract will bump up against Harper’s 40th birthday, the average annual value commitment on the part of the Phillies is low for a player of his caliber, at just over $25 million per season, which was important to the Phillies for the purposes of flexibility to remain under the luxury tax as they try to build a sustained winner.
Of course, looking at the overall NL East picture, this isn’t good news for the Mets. Before this signing, PECOTA projected a very tightly packed division, with the Nationals in first place at 89-73, followed by the Mets at 87-75, then the Phillies and Braves both at 85-77, and the Marlins in the basement at 68-94. While Harper going to the Phillies probably won’t have a dramatic effect on these projections, when the top four teams in the division are separated by the slimmest of margins, it certainly makes a difference. And it’s hard to argue that slotting Harper into a lineup that already includes Jean Segura, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and Andrew McCutchen isn’t enough to make any NL East rival sweat a little bit. To state the obvious, that fearsome lineup in Philadelphia is mostly made up of new faces, with the newest being the most fearsome of them all.
Every team in that tightly packed NL East foursome has made improvements. The Mets traded two first round draft picks to acquire Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz and signed free agents Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, and Justin Wilson. The Nationals signed the top free agent starting pitcher available in Patrick Corbin and signed Anibal Sanchez to sure up the back of their already very strong rotation. They are also featuring young phenoms Juan Soto and Victor Robles for their first full big league seasons. The Braves signed Josh Donaldson and reunited with Nick Markakis and Brian McCann to supplement their young core, centered around Ronald Acuña Jr. And now the Phillies have made the biggest splash of them all on top of the moves they have already made, making good on the “stupid money” promise they made what feels like a lifetime ago.
As for Mets, they don’t seem to be sweating. When asked about the Bryce Harper signing, Brodie Van Wagenen said, “I believe that we can beat about team any time. No signing is going to change that.” Michael Conforto echoed those sentiments. “We’re just worried about us,” he said. “We’re excited about our team.” Both Conforto and Mickey Callaway discussed the familiarity the Mets have with Bryce Harper as an opponent, having already faced him in the NL East many times in his career. “We have a scouting report on Harper,” Callaway said. “We’ve faced him before.” The Mets seem united this afternoon behind a message of focusing on their own team and their own clubhouse.
Meanwhile, an already competitive division just got a lot more competitive. With Bryce Harper remaining in the NL East for the next thirteen years, it’s hard to argue that there is a more exciting division in baseball than the National League East. The question now becomes: Have the Mets done enough to go toe to toe with the rest of the division that now includes a Phillies squad featuring Bryce Harper? The Mets have the power to send a message in response to this question. Dallas Keuchel remains available. Craig Kimbrel remains available. On a lesser tier, Gio Gonzalez remains available, among others. The “we’re just worried about our team” quotes seem to indicate a lack of intention to build any sort of response. So for now, the best Mets fans can do is get reacquainted with Bryce Harper the villain, just in slightly different clothes.