The Bryce Harper Signing Vaults the Phillies to Favorite Status

The Bryce Harper Signing Vaults the Phillies to Favorite Status

The Philadelphia Phillies were contenders for much of last season until a late season collapse found them 80-82, ten games behind the Braves in the National League East. Vowed to make improvements in the off season, the Phillies said they would spend "stupid money" in attempts to land the prizes of the free agency pool, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

While negotiations for the superstars heated up, the Phillies quietly make huge improvements both offensively and defensively with the signing of Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, JT Realmuto and David Robertson. Realmuto, likely the best catcher in the Major Leagues, replaces Jorge Arfaro. Segura replaces Scott Kingery at shortstop, while McCutchen takes over in left field, moving Rhys Hoskins to first base, replacing Carlos Santana. Robertson, the long-time Yankee, moves into the closer role.

Later, the Phillies missed out on Machado, as he signed with the Padres for $300 million over ten years. So the bar had been set for the price for Bryce Harper. The Phillies were the front runners for Harper most of the off season, yet nothing was getting done. Toward the end of negotiations, the Dodgers and the Giants were in the mix, making the Phillies brass anxious, frustrated and having doubts whether they would land the superstar.

Several shorter term deals were being discussed for Harper in the neighbourhood of $40+ million per season. However, Harper clearly was seeking a long-term contract. When the Giants appeared to offer a 10-year deal for $300 million, the Phillies needed to increase their offer or risk losing Harper. When all was said and done, the Phillies landed their man with a record-setting contract of 13 years for $330 million. In addition, the contract did not include an opt-out option. Harper is set to be a Phillie for likely the rest of his career.

This is great news for the Phillies and bad news for the rest of the league. While the Braves are still the favorites to win the division as defending champions, the Phillies likely will have something to say about that.  Harper has the potential to hit 45 home runs playing 81 games at Citizen's Bank Park. Rhys Hoskins and JT Realmuto can both reach 30 with Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Hererra and Maikel Franco are all capable of 20 or more.

The offense will be there, but the key could be the performance of the pitching staff. Aaron Nola is a legitimate ace, but the team needs a rebound from Jake Arrieta, who struggled in the second half of last season.  Improvements from Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin are a must. If the starters can keep the Philies in the game, the potent offense and strong bullpen should close the deal.

Look for the new look Phillies to contend this season, perhaps the team to be in the NL East.