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Bryce Harper signing gives Marlins even less margin for error with rebuild

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The Phillies are arguably the biggest winners of the offseason, while the Braves, Mets and Nats each have their own reasons for optimism. There’s no clear path for the Marlins to rise atop the NL East.

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Phillies not only agreed to terms with an elite player Thursday afternoon, but they got him at a reasonable rate (as “team friendly” as a record-breaking contract could be). Bryce Harper has reportedly inked a 13-year, $330 million deal with no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. He’s staying in the NL East for a long time.

The MLB leader in home runs against the Marlins since Marlins Park opened, Harper teams up with familiar face J.T. Realmuto in Philly. Who could’ve seen that coming?!

Combined with veteran acquisitions Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson and Jean Segura (among others), the Phils are poised to be really phucking good over the next few years. No individual contract—not even Harper’s—should adversely affect them from sustaining success considering the mighty revenue streams and consistent fan support in that market.

It should surprise none of you that the Marlins are the consensus pick to finish fifth in the division this season. That’s by design, as the front office covets high 2020 MLB Draft position and the largest possible bonus pool to use on international amateur free agents during the 2020-21 signing period. This is not their “window” to contend—that much is obvious.

Problem is, every savvy move by a division rival makes it increasingly difficult to envision a world where the Marlins get the last laugh.

Perhaps the Phillies were the offseason’s biggest winners, strengthening an average team at several critical positions, but what about the Mets? They enter 2019 with a deep lineup and lights-out closer while retaining the best starting pitcher in baseball. Bobby Bonilla’s contract will outlast Harper’s; beyond that, they ought to have plenty of financial flexibility next decade. Juan Soto and Víctor Robles are two of the only players with Harper-like upside, and they’re both in the Nationals outfield for the long haul. Though the Braves hardly invested in improving their roster, the reigning NL East champs maintain an elite farm system oozing with controllable talent. Plus they have ample resources to spread around should they choose to.

Credit to new Marlins ownership for taking a patient approach to the rebuild and gradually making nice with the haters. But the sobering reality is, achieving any kind of relevance while playing half your schedule against these teams will take a combination of intelligence, aggressiveness and simple luck.

This season is critical for the Marlins. Regardless of wins and losses, we must see evidence at various levels of the organization that players are developing—from suspects into prospects, from prospects into viable major leaguers, from viable major leaguers into building blocks. And then the real work begins, utilizing the influx of spending money from a new local television deal, rebranded merchandise, stadium naming rights, etc.

Being stagnant in MLB’s deepest division means falling behind.