You could see it happening, right in front of you.
The moving out of outfielders. The clearing of roster space. The all-too transparent intentions of teams other than the Phillies who find the idea of adding Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, all-star free agents appealing.
And finally, on Wednesday, the third day of the MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Buster Olney finally said it, putting the Olney family farm in dire trouble.
But as the winter plays out, day by day, it’s seen as increasingly possible by agents and executives that the Phillies will be unable to land either of the two best players in the market, Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, after five years of working to reshape their payroll angle to land a centerpiece position player.
The Yankees and Dodgers are creeping on the horizon, ready to make their move on either free agent to whom the Phillies have long been linked. Now, if you are a person who refuses to believe in good things or gets off on the notion of “I told you so,” this is not new information. It’s never been a lock that the Phillies would nail down either megastar, but given the money they have, the improvements they need to make, the two players available, and the way John Middleton has been flaunting around town, bragging about how much money he’s ready to spend, the Phillies have set themselves up to look rather foolish should neither Harper nor Machado find their way to Philadelphia.
Which isn’t to say that the Phillies would be lost without them... But from an optics stance, it’s tough to imagine the fan perception of their absence being anything but abject failure. And that’s not the view you want from the people whose money you’re trying to get.
Also, they... might be lost without them.
But the Phillies were always going to have to convince both players to come here. Places like Los Angeles and New York are always a threat because they wind up being so universally appealing to the majority of free agents. The Phillies, with a team that plummeted out of the standings last season and employs an unorthodox manager, aren’t automatically appealing (They aren’t automatically unappealing, either, but in this case, it’s never seemed like Machado or Harper had Philadelphia at the very top of their list).
That’s where all the money the Phillies have is supposed to come in.
So when Scott Boras talked to the press today next to a big Christmas tree in Las Vegas, anyone hoping for positive vibes regarding his clients’ communications with the Phillies was probably bummed out, especially after the Olney column.
#Phillies GM Matt Klentak said the other day that they won’t be held hostage this offseason by one or two players (i.e. Harper and Machado). Asked if he thinks that is simply good business for a team, or posturing to put pressure on them, Scott Boras replied: pic.twitter.com/F7RJ0XOTe7— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) December 12, 2018
Of course, there are ways other than money to bargain with them, I guess.
Boras said teams have been creative in pitches to Harper, including...”very graphic pictures” (?)— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) December 12, 2018
So while Boras remained noncommittal on his language involving the Phillies with his clients, there was always the starting pitching market, which yesterday told us the Phillies were getting “aggressive” in their pursuit of J.A. Happ, the 36-year-old lefty who is seeking a third year in his next deal.
He may still get it, but not, apparently, from the Phillies. The market got a little smaller today, as well, when Charlie Morton signed with the Rays for two years and $30 million, a deal he... really couldn’t get from the Phillies? Or did, but didn’t want?
Is it possible people just... don’t want to play in Philadelphia?
Scott Boras declined to say if he has spoken recently with #Phillies owner John Middleton. He declined to say if he thinks the Phillies want Harper. But he did say Harper likes playing in Philly and has a comfort there.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) December 12, 2018
Well, that’s nice. Boras wouldn’t really go much further about any dealings he’s had with the Phillies, but he did repeat a sentiment that Harper made in 2016, though he did mention that Harper is factoring in a franchise’s projected future strengths as dictated by their farm systems, potentially just to keep the White Sox on the hook.
Huh, we just sort of casually drifted back to Harper-talk, didn’t we? That’s fine. Jayson Stark threw in his two cents today, saying that if the Phillies get Machado and not Harper, they may still grab Michael Brantley off the market to fill out the outfield and make their young outfielders available to deal for a starting pitcher or something.