Shohei Ohtani got paid. The $700 million, 10-year contract Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers is the most lucrative deal any athlete has agreed to in the history of professional sports.
It was an undeniable shock when the first details of the contract started to trickle out last weekend. If that wasn't enough, the baseball world wasn't prepared to learn that Ohtani is deferring 97 percent of the contract and will be paid $2 million a year for the Dodgers over the 10 years.
Would a similar type of arrangement make a Bryce Harper contract extension more attractive to the Philadelphia Phillies?
It's no secret that Harper wants to sign a contract extension with the Phillies. With the exception of re-signing Aaron Nola and manager Rob Thomson this offseason, extending Harper has been arguably the most hotly debated topic with fans and local sports writers since he went public with the request. It would certainly be good for the player, but does it make sense for the team?
For starters, Harper has eight years remaining on the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed in 2019 that will take him close to the age of 39. In a game that has trended increasingly younger since testing for performance-enhancing drugs became the new norm, productive older position players have become few and far between.
Recent examples like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera should be turned into scared-straight videos for organizations considering making deals with hitters that go beyond the age of 40. What caliber of player Harper will be at that age is unknown, but do Phillies fans want to witness a similar decline? There's no guarantee they aren't in for that already.
Is Harper underpaid at the six-year mark of his current contract? Obviously. But what long-term contract ever looks fair as subsequent classes of free agents reset financial expectations nearly every offseason? That's how it goes in every professional sport. In 2019, he and Manny Machado were the young guys to hit the free agent market and set the new standard for contract length and dollars earned. They both gambled on that market and won big.
Should the Phillies defer money to extend Bryce Harper?
Has Shohei Ohtani's contract changed how big-money deals are signed going forward? That all depends on the caliber of player and the price tag attached to them. Harper declined that type of deal before when the Washington Nationals offered him $300 million to re-sign, with $100 million deferred until he was 60. It's unlikely he or his agent, Scott Boras, have changed their minds on that position.
The origins of the Harper being underpaid movement can all be traced back to Phillies owner John Middleton's over-excited comments during the 2022 World Series.
"He's the most underpaid $330 million man alive," said Middleton, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "He really is. What he's doing is unbelievable. He’s a special player. A very special player."
Middleton's words that night likely gave Boras a new angle to exploit and a new position to gain additional years and a very healthy raise. And that's why extending Harper has become the dominant headline in a quiet offseason.
The Phillies have other things to focus on this offseason, and extending Harper should not be a priority with a team that needs to improve in other areas on the field next season. Even if Harper is willing to defer money to add additional years to his current contract, it's a move that looks good right now but has the potential to be disastrous in the end.
Harper is a Philadelphia Phillies until 2031. And that should be enough for fans and Dave Dombrowski this offseason.