I am not a person who thinks this Phillies community should be one great, big, giant echo chamber. Different viewpoints, even those that are controversial and a little “out there” should always be welcomed.
Life is boring when everyone agrees. There’s no spark to life otherwise, no juice, and sports was meant to be argued about (hopefully without one person throwing a beer at another), sometimes at loud volumes.
But if you’re going to take a viewpoint that goes radically against the norm, you better come to the party with the ability to refute most, if not all of the points the rest of the tribe is going to throw at you. A controversial take without solid reasoning behind it is a “bad” take, and in my mind, there are too many chronic “bad takers” out there.
Take, for example, the opinion held by some that the Phils should not pursue either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper this off-season. Is it outside the mainstream? Absolutely, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad take. What makes it a bad take is that it is a position that is virtually impossible to defend.
Instead of ripping the article, let us instead explore the many reasons why this Phillies team absolutely should pursue one or both of these players.
- These are generational talents and, by being so young, are not pieces that one would use to add to a core. They would become the core. The 2019 season will be Harper’s age-26 season and Machado’s age-27 season. Even if you don’t think the Phillies are good enough to make a serious run at the division next year (a position I disagree with), the 2020 and ‘21 seasons are certainly within range, right? In 2020, Harper will be 27 and Machado will be 28. There are still 4-7 years of these players’ primes yet to come. They are not pieces you use to supplement the roster, they are building blocks of the roster.
- They are too good to pass up. In a down year, Harper hit .249/.393/.496 with 34 HRs, 103 runs, 100 RBIs, an 18.7% walk rate and worth 3.5 fWAR. He has a 9.3 fWAR season on his resume and, when healthy and fully locked in, challenges Mike Trout as the best player in baseball. Machado hit .297/.367/.538 with 37 HRs, 84 runs and 107 RBIs and was worth 6.2 fWAR, the 3rd time in 4 years he has been worth at least 6 wins. Players this good who have yet to hit their primes are never available for nothing but money.
- They won’t cost prospects. Both players can be had for nothing more than money, and the smart money is the Phillies will outbid every other team for their services. Does that mean they’ll get one? Perhaps not. Free agency is a two-way street, and even if the Phils offer them the most money, both players may choose to play elsewhere. But there is payroll flexibility that won’t be there next year, as well as a place on the roster for both.
How would both players fit into the Phillies’ culture? Well, what is their culture? Right now, the face of this franchise is Gabe Kapler. Young players other than Rhys Hoskins have not stepped up to claim the team as their own, so worries about either Machado or Harper messing up the team’s “culture” seem unfounded to me. And despite worries about Kapler’s “unique” managing style, I can guarantee you one thing — Harper and Machado are going to play every day and they’re not going to be moved all over the place. You can’t be scared that a player is going to voice concerns about shifts or other pieces of analytics. It’s part of a manager’s job to manage players.
The Phillies want and need players with which they don’t have to mix and match. They want and need players who can hit both right-handers and left-handers and know how to handle a position defensively. And let’s also not pretend the Phils are reinventing baseball with their use of analytics. Everything they did this year has also been done by the Dodgers, Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, and every other good team in baseball. Those teams just have better players.
When you have an opportunity to add talent, you do it. Even if the Phillies were in the middle of their rebuild, say, at the end of the 2016 season, the Phils still would have been wise to pay top dollar for either player. They are that young and that good.
Frankly, I can’t believe I even have to write this piece. There is no rational argument that can be made not to add to future Hall of Famers just as they are hitting their prime. None. Worries about clubhouse chemistry, whether these players are “winners” (don’t even get me started with that nonsense), and the cost associated with either athlete shouldn’t matter one iota. It’s not our money, the team has a $2.5 billion cable TV deal in their back pocket, and they have lots of payroll flexibility.
The Phils were in first place for more than a month this season. Some of it was due to smoke and mirrors, but some of it was due to a very good starting rotation, too. Adding a huge superstar to the mix, while also adding other players, may not automatically put the Phillies even with the Braves next season, but it would put them more than one step closer.
But you’re not signing Harper/Machado for next year. You’re signing them for the next four-to-six years, and even if Kapler comes and goes, even if a new hitting coach comes and goes, and even if a new GM comes and goes, those two players would be here as part of the foundation to take the team into the next evolution.