Bryce Harper signs record $330M contract with the Philadelphia Phillies

The free agent outfielder jumps ship from the Washington Nationals to their National League East rivals.
Image: Bryce Harper
Washington Nationals Bryce Harper (34) reacts to his winning hit during the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby, in Washington on July 16, 2018.Alex Brandon / AP

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By David K. Li

Bryce Harper, widely regarded as the most prized free agent in baseball history, agreed to a record-breaking, 13-year $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday.

The MLB Network first reported the deal and The Associated Press, NBC Philadelphia and ESPN also confirmed Harper's contract.

Harper's signing ended an unexpectedly long negotiation that stretched into Major League Baseball's spring training, with the regular season scheduled to start in about four weeks.

There are no opt-outs in the deal.

He becomes the third slugger in baseball to sign a $300 million contract. New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton is currently in the midst of a 13-year, $325 million contract extension he signed with the Miami Marlins, which had been the highest contract in baseball. Two weeks ago, the San Diego Padres reached a 10-year, $300 million deal with Manny Machado.

The 26-year-old Harper was considered a remarkably rare commodity because he accumulated the necessary six years of MLB service before a player becomes a free agent by such a young age. It meant he could ask for a lucrative, long-term deal that would cover prime-of-career years.

But the bidding for Harper appeared lukewarm as owners continued shying away from long, big-money contracts this past winter.

Harper reportedly turned down about $300 million to stay in Washington, before he defected to the division-rival Phillies.

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Harper had been planning for this big payday since he was a teenager, with unprecedented hype for such a young baseball player.

In 2009, Sports Illustrated put him on its cover, calling him the "Chosen One" and "Baseball's LeBron," comparing him to LeBron James, this generation's best basketball player who also lived up to over-the-top predictions of greatness beginning as a teen.

Harper left high school with a GED after just two years and played one season of junior college baseball in 2010.

It was a brazen move on a number of fronts.

As a 17-year-old at the College of Southern Nevada, Harper was able to showcase his skills against much older, and presumably, stronger players. His junior college plays in one of the leagues that use wooden bats, giving scouts an even better look at how Harper's raw skill could translate to pro ball.

All the gambles paid off big for the Las Vegas native, as he was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 MLB draft by the Nationals.

He rocketed through the minor leagues and debuted on April 28, 2012, winning the National League Rookie of the Year award and setting his six-year clock ticking toward this winter's free agent market.

Harper's best season, so far, was in 2015 when the outfielder belted a National League-high 42 home runs and took home the league's Most Valuable Player award.

He's generally steered clear of scandal and embarrassing antics. He's even authored a social media hit just months into his rookie year.

After a game in Toronto, a reporter asked Harper if he'd be taking advantage of the provincial drinking age in Ontario, 19.

"That's a clown question, bro," he answered, in a response that lit up Twitter, spawned t-shirts and was even borrowed by his home state senator, Harry Reid.

Harper's 2018-19 free agency has been circled on the calendars of baseball fans for years.

And fans of the few teams that bid on Harper pinned their hopes on every rumor.

Phillies fans believed — and correctly so, that — their club was in the lead for Harper when team owner John Middleton was spotted in Las Vegas last week, presumably to negotiate with the free agent in his hometown.