Harper happy to put 'tough' free agency behind him

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For Bryce Harper, the end of his unusually lengthy free-agency saga couldn't come soon enough.

Throughout the process, Harper understood that the record contract he sought - and eventually received from the Philadelphia Phillies at 13 years and $330 million - would take time to find.

But a shockingly slow market, one that left him without a job until March, ultimately caught the 26-year-old off guard.

"We knew going into the offseason it was going to be tough," Harper told ESPN's Tim Keown. "I didn't think it was going to be tough for guys in my age group to find a job (at all), but we knew it was going to be tough."

Harper's protracted free agency, like that of fellow mid-20s superstar Manny Machado, appears to have been a case of waiting things out before finding the money.

It hasn't been that kind of winter for many of his peers, though; the free-agent market remains replete with well-known veterans who can't find work with Opening Day fast approaching.

"It's an $11-billion industry, and the players should get a piece of that pie. Fans want to look at their team and say they have a Mike Trout, say they have a me - whoever. They want to see the best players," said Harper.

And, as Harper points out, some of those top players are still unemployed.

"Dallas Keuchel's not signed yet. Craig Kimbrel's not signed yet. ... There shouldn't be any hesitancy to put them on your team, especially if you're trying to rebuild," he said. "Why not have Adam Jones (who reportedly signed with Arizona on Sunday) come in for four or five years, be a starting center fielder every day, and have him teach young kids how to play the game?"

That was a major reason Harper insisted his Phillies deal contain zero opt-out clauses. It means the uncertainty and constant questions that follow high-profile athletes into the open market are forever in his past.

"I'm just so happy that I'm able to sit here right now and say I can play (in Philadelphia) until I'm 39 years old and I don't have someone sitting around the corner saying, 'He's going to go here next,'" Harper said.

"It was fun to go through the meetings and feel wanted, but it was something I'll happily never go through again."

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