As he gets ready for the season in Clearwater Bryce Harper wants a longer deal with the Phillies to go into his 40s, accepting a move to first base

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CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Bryce Harper wants to finish his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, playing into his 40s and perhaps gloving a throw at first base for the final out of a World Series.

Harper arrived at spring training on Sunday, and the two-time NL MVP said he accepts his move to first from the outfield, a makeshift decision last year that got him back on the field following Tommy John surgery.

He has seven years and $196 million left on his $330 million, 13-year contract, a relative bargain with a $25.4 million average salary that ranks 25th among current players.

“I want to be here for a long time and understand playing into my 40s, that’s the biggest thing for me,” the 31-year-old said Sunday in the Phillies’ spring training clubhouse. “So I wanted to get that done.”

After 11 seasons as an outfielder, Harper moved to first last year when he returned from Tommy John surgery, which he had in November. Back as a designated hitter on May 2, Harper started playing first on July 21 and had 36 starts there, plus 13 in the playoffs.

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski met Harper during the offseason and discussed a long-term shift to the infield.

“We had a pretty good conversation, me and Dombo, we sat down and he said this would be great for our organization, and I said, OK,” Harper said. “I wanted them to know that I was on board with anything that they wanted to do. I said if you want me in right field, I’ll play right. If you want me at first, I’ll play first base, and I think as a collective they said first base is where we want you, and I said, OK, I’m going to do anything I can to be there.”

Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, has advocated opt-outs in contracts to ensure stars don’t fall behind top-of-the-market prices.

“He was fully aware with the magnitude of the opt-out in regard to his rights structure and the benefit of it,” Boras said. “I advised him of it multiple times. On each occasion. Bryce said: ‘I’m going to Philadelphia. I want the fans to know that I’m going to be there for the remainder of my career. I’ve got to recruit teammates, and I want them to know I’m going to be there.’”

“He feels as though the fact that he did not include an opt-out in his contract would not be something that would be used against him,” Boras said.

Philadelphia had a void at first created when Rhys Hoskins tore his left ACL while fielding a grounder in a spring training game last March. Hoskins became a free agent after the season and signed a $34 million, two-year contract with Milwaukee.

“For longevity, I think it’s good for Bryce and it’s good for ballclub,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said of the switch. “There’s a little bit more movement but a lot less running.”

Harper was slowed by back spasms last summer, coming out of an Aug. 10 game against Washington, then making only six starts in the field over the next 21 games.

“When he first started doing it last year, the back kind of flared up at times, but I think as he gets used to it, I think that won’t be as much of an issue,” Thomson said.

Drafted first overall by Washington in 2010, Harper was 19 when he made his big league debut with the Nationals two years later. He still hasn’t won a World Series title and realizes the current Phillies team may be his best chance with a core that also includes Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto and Nick Castellanos along with pitchers Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

After losing the 2022 World Series to Houston in six games, the Phillies were eliminated by Arizona in a seven-game NL Championship Series last year.

“This is a window that we got to win in,” Harper said. “Our ownership deserves that. Our fans deserve that. Dombrowski deserves that, as well, and we do, too.”

Harper should benefit from a full spring training. He hit three homers in his first 57 games after surgery and 18 in his final 69.

A seven-time All-Star, Harper has a .281 career average with 306 homers, 889 RBIs and .912 OPS that is fifth among active players, behind Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr.

Harper’s current deal runs until he turns 38. Already assured of about $380 million in career earnings, Harper isn’t pressing for quick negotiations on a new deal.

“I understand there’s other guys to take care of, right? Understanding that Wheels is a big one for us right now,” he said, a reference to Wheeler entering the last season of a $118 million, five-year deal. “Contract negotiations can happen throughout the season and things like that. So, we’ll see what Scott and Dave can come up.”

After growing up in Las Vegas, Harper lives just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia in New Jersey. His offseason rooting interests are influenced by wife Kayla, a former Ohio State soccer player, and 4-year-old son Krew. His ties to the Philadelphia area have grown.

“Buckeye football on Saturday,” he said. “Eagles on Sundays, and my son’s obsessed with the Flyers.”

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB  by Taboola