What Does Harper Deal Mean for MLB and Other Leagues?

By Drew Gallagher

March 18, 2019

Drew Gallagher is a first-year undergraduate student at Bowling Green State University. He is planning to major in Sport Management with a minor in General Business. Drew is a proud native of Aurora, Illinois and is interested in many sports, but focuses primarily on baseball and football at the professional and collegiate levels.

Back on February 28th, the most lucrative free agent contract in North American sports history was agreed upon by Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies. The deal ended up being worth $330 million over 13 years (Zolecki, 2019). The contract also included stipulations such as no-trade and no opt-out clauses for the 26 year-old outfielder (Zolecki, 2019, para. 5). Now, of course, this is an insane amount of money for any one individual to be making, especially since it is 100% guaranteed.

When you examine the deal individually, you can see that it benefits everyone involved. As Kram (2019) said, “Harper receives the largest contract by total value in U.S. sports history, while the Phillies can spread the payment over more years to reduce the per-year cost” (para. 1). When you examine the deal on the larger scale though, you see that it may be a sign of what’s to come for Major League Baseball. We can predict that deals, at least for star players, will start to become more and more about long-term security in the coming years. This is especially important when you think about the number of young talented players in the game right now who will all become free agents at some point within the next decade.

Many news outlets took this news another route though. Since the NFL is the most popular league in the country, why shouldn’t its players earn as much or more money than MLB players? There are many forms of this argument that we hear frequently since the NFL is infamous for limiting guaranteed money for its players. At the surface, this argument makes complete sense. The players that earn their league more money deserve to be compensated more for their play. But when you look at it from a business standpoint, it becomes apparent why that isn’t the case.

According to Cosentino (2017), “NFL players are far more likely to sustain injuries than those in MLB… the mean number of injuries suffered per game in the NFL is approximately 4.9 times higher than the sum of those other leagues [the MLB, NBA and NHL]” (para. 5). The truth is, such a high risk of injury leads teams to be more reluctant to dole out big money to players. The same can’t be said for baseball since it is rarer that a player suffers a major injury. Baseball is a more long-standing sport with a more influential players union. These two reasons set it apart from the other two major American sports.

It is my guess that the implication of Harper’s contract will extend primarily to MLB as a whole. It does make sense though that media outlets would try to apply it to other sports to make it a more universal topic for their viewers. The truth of the matter is that the sports world is very secular and not much of what happens in one sport will affect another.

References

Cosentino, D. (2017, August 1). Why only the NFL doesn’t guarantee contracts. Deadspin. Retrieved from https://deadspin.com/why-only-the-nfl-doesnt-guarantee-contracts-1797020799

Kram, Z. (2019, February 28). The ripple effect of Bryce Harper’s record-setting Phillies contract. The Ringer. Retrieved from https://www.theringer.com/mlb/2019/2/28/18245294/bryce-harper-philadelphia-phillies-giants-dodgers-yankees-cubs-trout-betts

Zolecki, T. (2019, February 28). Harper, Phils agree to 13-year deal. mlb.com. Retrieved from https://www.mlb.com/news/bryce-harper-deal-with-phillies

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