Long before 'slow' and 'drawn-out' became the words synonymous with Major League Baseball's most recent offseason, the story that sparked headlines came courtesy of Phillies' owner John Middleton and his declaration that his team was prepared to "be a little stupid about" spending money on a star-studded free-agent class . Middleton's mid-November comments weren't a shock - the Phillies entered the offseason with a perfect storm of circumstances. Philadelphia showed promise in 2018, had plenty of money to work with, and boasted a young core headlined by a prime power threat and a Cy Young finalist. To Middleton's credit, the Phillies followed through with spending "stupid money."
In December, general manager Matt Klentak acquired all-star shortstop Jean Segura from the Mariners and signed former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal. In January, he landed an established late-inning reliever in David Robertson. February, meanwhile, was the month that put the Phillies on the map, as Klentak swung a trade for all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto and later made the splash of the offseason by handing Bryce Harper a record 13-year, $330 million contract.
The Phillies spent most of 2018 in postseason contention, entering August eleven games over .500 and playing well enough to reach a high-water mark of 14 games over .500 later in the month. A brutal month of September dropped the Phillies to 80-82 in the blink of an eye, but the offseason was intended to be the difference between a team that couldn't close the deal and a team that could compete for a division title. To say the least, that hasn't happened. Not only are the Phillies not leading the NL East, but as of August 12, when they sat 13 games over .500 a year ago, they aren't occupying second or third place in the division. Now just 23-31 over their last 54 games, the concerning truth is that these Phillies, with their high-profile additions, are objectively worse than they were at this point last season.
In some respects, these results aren't an indictment of the high-profile offseason. Realmuto actually leads Philadelphia in WAR, while Segura has been a high-impact part of the offense despite not hitting quite like he did in 2018. McCutchen was having a strong season before going down with a torn ACL in June, and his loss has been felt ever since. The lone major pitching addition, Robertson, has been a swing-and-a-miss, making only seven appearances due to injury; he won't return this season. Other mistakes have been more costly for Philadelphia. Jake Arrieta's three-year, $75 million contract, signed before the 2018 season, has turned into an albatross as the former Cy Young winner struggles to pitch through an injury, and declining to add a starting pitcher in favor of four position players this past winter has looked like an undeniable mistake. The potentially largest mistake, one that it seems some aren't yet willing to talk about, is the signing of Bryce Harper.
Giving Harper the largest contract in baseball history was risky from the outset after a questionable 2018 season, which saw the former MVP hit just .249 while playing the worst defense of his career, according to nearly all metrics. Even so, questioning Harper's talent during his free-agent journey was frowned upon and would be met with endless lectures about his on-base percentage, his power, how batting average means nothing, or even his ability to draw fans to the stadium. No one would make the case that Harper isn't a useful player; he is again on pace for 30 home runs, and he does see his share of walks, albeit not as often as 2018 as teams start to realize he might not be the consistent threat many expected him to be. In fact, his defensive metrics have improved as well.
However, Harper doesn't lead his fourth-place team in WAR, his current on-base percentage marks his lowest since 2014, his .250 AVG is just a tick higher than last season, and he's on pace for fewer home runs than 2018 despite the league's marked increase in long balls. For nearly two seasons now, or three out of the last four seasons, for that matter, he hasn't played like anything close to a $330M man, and this has to be discussed. Harper has the personality and salary of a bonafide star, but the production hasn't touched that level for nearly two years - not even a year into a 13-year deal, it's an uncomfortable truth that threatens to hang over the Phillies for more than a decade.
Perhaps all of this talent the Phillies have collected puts together a run in the season's final weeks and powers the team to its first postseason appearance since 2011. More likely, however, is a third or fourth-place finish and a September marred by questions regarding manager Gabe Kapler's future. When a team adds as much as Philadelphia did and has so little to show for it in the win column, heads tend to roll. One head that can't roll for another 12 years, though, is Bryce Harper's. While Kapler will be the one to face the inevitable scrutiny that comes with disappointment, Klentak and co. have no choice but to hope their $330 million investment morphs back into his old self sooner than later.