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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

How Bryce Harper's deal with Phillies affects Yankees, Mets

The Nationals' Bryce Harper points to the dugout

The Nationals' Bryce Harper points to the dugout after he hit a two-run home run against the Cubs on Sept. 8, 2018, in Washington. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

TAMPA, Fla.

The Yankees could afford to react with bemused admiration. It was the seventh inning of Thursday’s game at Steinbrenner Field when word of Bryce Harper’s $13-year, $330 million contract reached the dugout, and his record-setting haul from the Phillies soon had everyone in pinstripes abuzz.

“That’s a lotta iron,” said Aaron Boone, referring to Harper’s new riches. “Guess I’m glad he’s not in our league.”

Bingo. Harper, like Manny Machado, isn’t the Yankees’ problem, at least until a World Series matchup. Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres, and San Diego may as well be Siberia as far as the Bronx is concerned.

The Yankees showed some initial interest in Machado, entertaining the possibility that they might land him at a reduced rate. But when it became clear that wasn’t happening, the next-best thing was to have him out of the division, and the American League altogether.

The Yankees passed on Harper from the start, and his potential landing spots didn’t have them all that worried. There was, however, plenty of chatter Thursday in the Yankees’ clubhouse, home to the previous record-holder, Giancarlo Stanton, owner of a $325 million contract.

Stanton figured it was only a matter of time before he was passed.

“I wasn’t really worried about it,” he said. “It was going to get beat eventually, so it doesn’t matter. Great for him for sure.”

Not so great, however, for the Mets. Harper is back in the NL East, on a loaded rival, in what may be a more dangerous location at Citizens Bank Park, a hitter’s haven.

As the Harper sweepstakes stretched into late February and the Dodgers and Giants made last-minute pushes, the Mets had a clear rooting interest.

Just do the math. Deal with one of the game’s most lethal sluggers for 19 games every season for the next 13 years, on a rapidly improving Phillies team that is positioning itself to be a consistent NL East power, or face him six times and not worry about him again until the playoffs?

No matter how you spin this, the Mets were a clear loser Thursday, and Harper’s decision makes their life more difficult.

“We were prepared that all the teams in this division were going to get better and this division was going to be competitive from pitch one of the season,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “We built this team to try to win out of the gate and win as many games as we can. I expect to be standing at the end.  

"I believe that we can beat any team any time, and no player signing is going to change that mindset.”

This isn’t about the Mets’ mindset. That wasn’t going to be affected by Harper winding up in Philly. They had been connected with Harper since the free-agency period began in November, and with big money to burn this winter, the Phillies were the leading candidate anyway.

It’s just that the task ahead becomes significantly more difficult with Harper on a division rival that already had added J.T. Realmuto, David Robertson and Jean Segura and recently signed ace Aaron Nola to a four-year, $45 million extension. By keeping Harper’s average annual value relatively low — at $25.38 million — the Phillies also have some financial flexibility for further improvements, and that could put still-available free agents Dallas Keuchel (another Scott Boras client) and Craig Kimbrel in play.

That’s something else for the Mets to be concerned about: They stopped spending and the Phillies keep throwing cash around.

“He was in the division last year, so I don’t really see anything changing,” Michael Conforto said. “It’s a tough division. It was tough before he was coming back and it’s going to be tougher now. But we’re worried about what we got here. We’re worried about the guys that we got.”

Now that Harper and Machado have their megadeals, we have a sense of closure. Both pulled in every penny they were searching for, and baseball’s landscape for the coming season is more defined. As for what Harper’s contract truly means in the years ahead, there’s only one guarantee.

“It’s a victory for the guy that signed the contract,” Brett Gardner said.

Beyond Harper, we’ve yet to see who the winners are in the long run.

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