While it hadn’t been the loudest sports story over the past few months -- its nature entailed an absence of headlines -- baseball’s biggest free agents remaining unsigned way longer than usual was maybe the strangest. Definitely the eeriest. It was just sort of... weird. Were there really not serious offers for 26-year-old former MVP Bryce Harper or also-26-year-old four-time All Star Manny Machado? Was there maybe -- as many were speculating -- collusion among team owners to keep the value of their contract offers down? Or was something else afoot? Spring training (the start of baseball’s pre-season) had already started -- was there a chance the regular season could start without them, an increasingly freaked-out baseball world wondered?
Maybe we were thinking about things the wrong way. After all, you’d expect a few months of courtship before a marriage, right? And these players ended up with marriage-length deals: Machado signed for 10 years and $300 million with the San Diego Padres, followed a few days later by Harper signing for 13 (!) years and $330 million (!) with the Philadelphia Phillies, the largest total dollar amount for a single contract in North American sports history.
What do these contracts mean for players?
Breathe a sigh of relief, players: the superstars didn’t get stiffed in the end. It took a while, but they got paid, so you'll probably be all right. For Machado and Harper in particular, these contracts are career-defining. Machado has an “opt-out” -- meaning he can choose to bail out of the contract -- at the five year mark, but otherwise he’s with the Padres until age 36. Harper went the no-prenup route, with no opt-out, meaning he’s committed to the Phillies until age 39, through the year 2031 (don’t think about how old you’ll be when that contract ends).
What do these contracts mean for the league?
These are big moves for these squads. The Padres' motivation is confusing, since they've been awful the last few years -- usually in that situation, teams develop young players on the cheap, but whatever. For the Phillies, it means it's World Series or bust time for the next 13 years, no pressure. (They were decent last year, and while they haven't made the playoffs since 2011, they've tasted sweet, sweet World Series title glory as recently as 2008.) For the Washington Nationals, Harper's previous team and the only one he'd known, seeing him end up with their division rivals was painful. For Machado's previous team, the L.A. Dodgers, they'll probably just find someone else to pay literal truckloads of money to (he only played there for half a season).
So, who’s going to win the World Series?
Baseball’s notoriously hard to predict, especially in the playoffs, so it’s anyone’s guess. But the Phillies are now among the favorites, though they don't have the top spot (the Padres are still nowhere close). That honor goes to a three-way tie between the defending champ Boston Red Sox, the Houston Astros, and, because that's just how things work, the New York Yankees.