The Washington Nationals won the World Series without Bryce Harper. The pressure is growing on him and the Philadelphia Phillies to start winning.
If and when the 2020 MLB season starts, there will be few teams with more pressure on them to start winning than the Philadelphia Phillies. They brought in a proven winning manager in Joe Girardi this past offseason. And for the third straight year, they made significant moves from outside the organization in order to start winning.
Last offseason, the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a mammoth 13-year, $330 million deal. He was one of several significant additions to the roster, along with Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and David Robertson. The result? A one-game improvement, from 80-82 in 2018 to 81-81 in 2019.
While those other additions were important, make no mistake about it: This is Bryce Harper‘s team. And whether you think it’s fair or not, his career will be judged on whether the Phillies can win with him on the roster.
Over the years, there have been many elite players who did not achieve postseason success. In fact, Mike Trout continues to be regarded as the game’s elite player today despite the fact that the Los Angeles Angels have not won a single postseason game with him on the roster. The storyline with Trout has been that the Angels have failed to build a winner around him.
Why is it different with Bryce Harper? There are at least three reasons why:
- Bryce Harper is not Mike Trout. Despite getting that massive contract and despite his reputation as one of the game’s biggest personalities, Harper has not had close to the individual success that Trout has. Harper was one of the game’s most highly-touted prospects ever before his arrival, yet aside from his MVP season of 2015, he hasn’t placed in the top ten of NL MVP voting in any other season. Thus, Harper will have to be part of a winner in order to grow his legacy.
- Bryce Harper left; Mike Trout didn’t. Trout and the Angels showed a lot of loyalty to each other by getting a long-term contract done before Trout hit free agency. Whenever a star player leaves his original team, none of us know for sure how much of it was because of the team and how much was because of the player. Yet Harper reportedly turned down a ten-year, $300 million extension from Washington. Largely because of that, the perception at least will be that Harper could have easily stayed. Instead, he is supposed to be the player that will put the Phillies over the top.
- The Nationals won without him. No matter what happens the rest of Harper’s career, he’ll always be remembered by the fact that the Washington Nationals won the World Series the first year after he left them. Was it Harper that was holding them back? Well, there are few teams that would turn down the opportunity to have a player of Harper’s caliber on their team. Yet in three of the four years that the Nationals were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, Harper struggled; only in 2014 against the San Francisco Giants did he put in a good postseason performance. It may not be his fault, but the facts are the facts.
Now, Harper is only 27 years old, so if we have a 2020 season and the Phillies don’t win anything, that won’t be the end of the story. Far from it: He’ll still be there for 11 more seasons. Yet the pressure on Harper will grow exponentially every year that the Phillies don’t win.
That will not go down in history as a reflection on Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler, or any other Phillies player. It won’t even be a reflection on Girardi. When he signed that massive contract, Harper put the burden of bringing a winner to Philadelphia on his shoulders. It’s just different with Harper. Again, you may not think that’s fair, but that’s the way it is.
If the Phillies, who have now missed the playoffs for eight straight years, can bring another championship to Philadelphia, perhaps that will change the narrative on Harper. If it doesn’t happen, it will be a big blemish on his legacy. Bottom line: Harper and the Phillies need to start winning soon.