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Harper inks record-shattering deal with Phillies

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Miami (AFP)

Bryce Harper signed a record-smashing Major League Baseball deal Saturday with the Philadelphia Phillies, saying he found his place to build a long-term legacy and realize his championship dreams.

The 26-year-old outfielder inked a 13-year contract worth $330 million, the richest deal in the history of US team sports, with no opt-out or trade clauses in a fully guaranteed deal.

"This process has been a long one but it has been fun as well. It's good to feel wanted by the organization and the fan base as well," Harper said at the Phillies' pre-season training stadium in Clearwater, Florida.

"It felt right. It felt like a home. It felt like someplace I could be for a long time. I wanted to finish my career somewhere and they made that commitment to me."

While not the largest annual salary for a player, the money commitment to Harper is a record, averaging about $25.4 million a year over the course of his contract.

"Baseball is worth about $11.5 billion. I think some of that should go back to the players as well," Harper said.

"Fans are coming to the game and spending $16 for a beer that used to only be about 25 cents at one time."

Harper spent his first seven major league seasons with the Washington Nationals but could never advance past the first round of the playoffs. By jumping to another National League East division club, he will face his former club 19 times a season.

"I grew up in that clubhouse. Players in that clubhouse reached out and told me congrats. I'm excited to be able to face those guys," Harper said.

"I can't wait to get on the field to do Phillies Nation proud. I can't wait to get started. Here's to a new chapter. Here's to a new phase."

- 'You feel the love' -

Harper has a career .279 batting average with 521 runs batted in and 184 home runs with Washington from 2012-2018 and was the top free agent target of the off-season, snubbing offers from Washington, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"It came down to where I felt comfortable. It was a family decision for me," Harper said. "You feel the love. You feel the intent of the people wanting you to come here. I wanted to dig my roots down."

The six-time All-Star was the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the NL Most Valuable Player and home run leader in 2015 and won last year's Home Run Derby contest at the MLB All-Star Game in Washington.

"What he has accomplished in his career at such a young age is truly remarkable," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said.

Harper donned a Phillies cap and his number 3 jersey, not keeping his Washington 34 number because it was worn by pitcher Roy Halladay, who will be posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July.

"I wanted 34 but I thought Roy Halladay should be the last one to wear it," Harper said. "That's something he should be remembered for."

- Phillies defend 'stupid money' -

The Phillies finished 80-82 last season but have now added three All-Star players in quest of a first playoff appearance since 2011, leaving team managing partner John Middleton to defend spending what critics called "stupid money".

"Does it look like stupid money to you?" he asked. "First person in baseball to sign three All-Stars from the previous season. I think Matt did an amazing job. He made him and me look very smart."

The Phillies last reached the World Series in 2009, losing to the New York Yankees, and last won it in 2008, defeating Tampa Bay.

"This team is filled with perennial All-Stars. You can go on and on about this team and how good they can be," Harper said. "I'm excited to be going into this clubhouse and just being part of this group."

Harper named Australian NBA star Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz as helping to show him the excitement his new home can offer a sporting hero.

"I saw that passion. I saw that fire. To feel that excitement it's an amazing thing," Harper said. "It's something I want to be part of for a very long time."

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