Bryce Harper hopes that year three of a 13-year/$330 Million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies is different than the first two.
Harper, now 28, has remained very productive in his first two seasons with the Phillies. However, not only have the Phillies not reached the playoffs during that timespan, but they haven't even posted a winning record.
Even after an offseason where the Phillies re-signed J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius, Harper knows that his team has their work cut out in a division where all five teams are trying to reach the postseason.
"I think this is the best division in baseball, I don't think that's even a question," Harper said Thursday. "We have five teams in this division that are really good...really good pitching...really good young pitching...good bullpens...good lineups...so I think this is going to be a juggernaut of a division. It's gonna take the team that stays healthy, the team that knows how to play baseball the best way...beats the teams they need to...and plays hard all year long and doesn't have the injuries or anything like that. Hopefully if we can put our right foot forward...have our lineup healthy all year...have our starting pitching healthy all year...getting the revamped bullpen that we do...I think we'll be right there in the hunt and hopefully we can do that."
A year ago, the Phillies went 28-32, finishing in third place in the National League East. They've retooled what was a historically-bad bullpen in 2020, signing Archie Bradley, trading for Jose Alvarado and inviting veterans Hector Rondon, Brandon Kintzler, Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson and Michael Ynoa to spring training as non-roster invitees.
Just a below average bullpen in 2020 probably would have allowed the Phillies to reach the postseason. Of course, a year ago there were eight postseason spots, and in 2021 baseball will return to five teams in each league reaching the playoffs.
The three-time defending National League East Champion Atlanta Braves re-signed Marcell Ozuna this offseason, while adding veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to the starting rotation. They are, unquestionably, the favorites to win the division in 2021.
Steve Cohen officially became the majority owner of the New York Mets this offseason, and while something always seems to go wrong with that organization, they added Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker and James McCann in the offseason. On paper, this is a team that should win between 90 and 95 games in 2021.
The Mets finished in a tie for last place in the National League East in 2020 with the Washington Nationals. Still, the Nationals are two seasons removed from winning the World Series. Juan Soto and Trea Turner are superstars. If the Nationals can get one more really good year out of the trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, at a minimum, they'll be a Wild Card contender.
And last, but not least are the Miami Marlins. Not only did the Marlins sneak into the postseason in 2020, but they won a playoff series over the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps over the course of a 162-game season they'll see some regression, but the organization has a bounty of young pitching that should allow them to remain competitive for the next half decade at least. Sixto Sanchez and Sandy Alcantara are just the beginning in Miami.
The truth is, this is a division that will probably take 95 or more wins to capture. The Phillies have a ton of veteran talent, but it's fair to wonder if they have that type of ceiling. It may be that Joe Girardi's squad - barring a 2015-type season from Harper - is more of a threat to win a Wild Card spot than the National League East.