CLEARWATER — When the Phillies arrived at spring training, manager Gabe Kapler asked his players to block out any noise about Bryce Harper potentially joining the club, and instead ensure that their focus remained on each other in preparation for the upcoming season.
And if Kapler was going to stress that, it would only be right if he did the same. He held up his end, until the middle innings of Thursday’s Grapefruit League game when the Spectrum Field seating bowl behind him began buzzing.
“We had some fans behind us who were sharing some moment-by-moment tweets with us,” Kapler said. “And we were getting four fans right behind where we were sitting, telling us terms and who was tweeting what. We were like, ‘Who is making the reports? We need to make sure these people are credible.’
“They were holding their phones up so I could turn around and see the phones.”
The Phillies agreed to terms with Harper on the largest contract in American sports history — a 13-year, $330 million deal — pending a physical.
That’s through the 2031 season.
The Phillies already had done enough this offseason to improve last year’s team, signing a former NL MVP in outfielder Andrew McCutchen, trading for a pair of all-stars in shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto and signing an all-star former closer in David Robertson.
“It’s pretty cool … finally,” said Phillies ace Aaron Nola. “I think we were a good team before him, but he — as an addition to the team — makes us even better. Glad to claim him and looking forward to him getting here.”
Since Phillies owner John Middleton said his team could be “a little bit stupid” with its offseason spending, only landing one of the two elite free agents — Harper or Manny Machado — would be enough in Philadelphia.
It was Bryce or bust.
“I certainly think that the city of Philadelphia would embrace Bryce Harper,” Kapler said. “I think he would be very happy in this city because our fans care deeply about winning. Their care about winning was evident throughout this entire offseason, obviously paying close attention to every move that (general manager) Matt (Klentak) made and we made a lot of moves to get ready for this spring training, and I think you have seen over the first couple of days of camp that our roster has been significantly improved and we’re a team that really believes in ourselves.”
After missing out on Machado — who was the Phillies’ top offseason priority because of his premium defense — they simply had to sign Harper. They withstood late charges from the Giants and Dodgers to give Harper a deal that outdid the 13-year, $325 million extension Giancarlo Stanton signed with the Marlins after the 2014 season.
While Machado’s annual average value of $30 million a year trumps the $25.38 million Harper will make annual, the 13-year terms of the deal are three years longer than any given to a free agent.
“It’s very exciting for us,” McCutchen said. “Happy he was able to get a deal done and get one done here, so, of course, we’re all excited. … We thought we were a complete team. Now, we’re even more of a complete team. It’s going to be fun.
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“It’s always been good to be a Phillie,” McCutchen added. “It’s really good to be one now.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.