Silvanio: Bryce Harper set a new standard for MLB contracts

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MLB contracts graphic. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

With Bobby Witt Jr. of the Kansas City Royals signing a brand new $288 million fully guaranteed contract, is it time to talk about Bryce Harper being underpaid?

When Bryce Harper signed his 13-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for $330 million in March 2019, it exceeded Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension with the Miami Marlins as the largest contract in baseball history. Many critics at the time considered it a total overpay.

Since then, Harper has slashed .284/.395/.536, won the 2021 National League MVP, two Silver Sluggers, and made one All-Star appearance. In other words, there are no signs of the 31-year-old slowing down.

Fast forward five years later, Harper has gone from having the richest contract of all time to the eighth highest, and he will continue to fall. At the start of the 2024 season, Bryce Harper will be the 23rd highest-paid player in the league per average annual value (AAV). Anthony Rendon is the sixth highest-paid player in the league, and in four years in an Angels uniform has only played 200 games, just 38 more games than a full regular season.

So how did we get here in 2024 with Bobby Witt Jr. getting a $288 million contract (that could reach up to $377 million) with only two major league seasons under his belt and guys like Rendon making $35 million a year? The answer is Harper and Manny Machado setting the market up for guys after them.

After the 2019 off-season, one where Harper and Machado held out into spring training to sign for what they thought they deserved, MLB off-seasons and contracts have never been the same. They paved the way for the players after them to get paid, setting a new benchmark.

The important thing to remember is that not everyone is a Bryce Harper and should be paid that much. So, five years later, and as time continues to go on, we will see more examples of players like Rendon and many other players getting overpaid and underperforming, which will continue to prove how great of a contract it was for the Philadelphia Phillies to land Harper at what was once considered an overpay and is now considered a bargain.

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