Phillies can only blame themselves for unwanted Bryce Harper contract talk

Bryce Harper wants an extension despite eight years of guaranteed money left on his contract. Can he get the Philadelphia Phillies to budge?

Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Bryce Harper is officially asking the Philadelphia Phillies for a contract extension. The two-time MVP, entering his age-31 season, is currently signed through 2031 at an annual average of $25.4 million. His contract does not include any opt-outs — a symbol of his commitment to the franchise. Harper is looking for his unwavering commitment to be reciprocated.

At the MLB Winter Meetings, Scott Boras expressed Harper's desire to finish his career in Philadelphia and "play well beyond the contract he has." Harper's current deal will expire when he is 38 years old. The newly-minted first baseman wants to play into his 40s with the Phillies.

While Harper is openly lobbying for an extension, the Phillies don't have any tangible incentive to entertain the idea. GM Dave Dombrowski didn't close the door on it, but his quote, courtesy of The Athletic, doesn't exactly sound like a GM gearing up to tack five years and another $100 million on Harper's contract.

"I don’t want to just brush it off by any means. He’s welcome to the thought process."

Thankfully, I'm fluent in GM speak. I can translate. Dombrowski is essentially saying "Sure man, ask away."

The Phillies have no reason to take the extra risk. Harper's production right now will almost certainly not mirror his production at 40 years old. Very few position players are thriving into their early or mid-40s. Ask Joey Votto. While the Phillies are no doubt thrilled with Harper's output to date, one advantage to underpaying for a superstar on a contract without opt-outs is the ability to continue underpaying that superstar.

As for Harper's side of the argument, well... he's Bryce Harper. He has brought so much to the Phillies organization and the city's fanbase. He has by all means earned a raise. It's simply not common for even the most generous front offices to rework a deal and increase their own level of risk when there's no upside for the organization. Unless Harper wants to apply pressure through trade demands or half-baked effort, James Harden-style, the Phillies are going to have a tough time finding a reason to honor this request.

That said, the Phillies did bring this on themselves. Here is owner John Middleton telling Harper, face-to-face, that he is underpaid.

Bryce Harper wants an extension because he is underpaid, which the Phillies admit

That clip serves as a great bargaining chip for Harper. I'm sure Middleton wishes he didn't say it out loud, in front of cameras. It's the undeniable truth, especially with Shohei Ohtani setting a new market ceiling this offseason. Harper is wildly underpaid relative to his peers, but that is the case for most MLB stars who signed lengthy contracts. After a few years, those once exorbitant numbers become palatable.

Harper still has the benefit of guaranteed money through his age-38 season, which is a nice perk unique to most MLB players. There's a good chance the Phillies would be happy to entertain re-signing him closer to 2031, too. It's just too early to have any confidence that Harper can actually produce at a star level into his 40s.

It would be nice to see Harper get a raise. Again, it's not a question of whether or not he deserves it. If the Phillies simply want to avoid rocking the proverbial boat, then by all means, make it happen. Harper doesn't seem inclined to create havoc the way other professional athletes might, though. He's too ingrained in the city, and he would lose a ton of goodwill with the fanbase as soon as he starts pushing hard for a new deal. At the end of the day, it's difficult to feel truly bad about a dude making $330 million over a 13-year span. He's set for life.

We will see how it plays out. The Phillies can afford to give in, but at the same time, there's no reason to from a cold-hard business standpoint. Harper can't do anything except express his views to the media and play baseball. If he wants to make the Phillies uncomfortable, he can. For now, we just wait to see if either side is actually motivated enough to gain traction on a new deal, or if this extension buzz quietly dies out.

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