As the Phillies, Manny Machado, his agent Dan Lazano, Bryce Harper and his agent Scott Boras continue their winter stare-down, it has been seen by some that, with each passing day, the possibility of the team signing both free agent superstars was becoming more possible.
That makes sense. After all, the longer this goes on, it seems fewer teams are in the mix for either player. And if the Phillies don’t have to offer mega contracts to either guy, why isn’t it possible?
A report by Matt Gelb in The Athletic (subscription required) today indicated that possibility is just wishful thinking.
The Phillies are believed to prefer Machado over Harper because he is an elite hitter and defender, but conflicting information has spread from team to team and agent to agent. That, of course, is by design. The Phillies do not benefit from broadcasting their preference. League sources insisted the Phillies have made this much clear during negotiations: They will not sign both players.
As written about last week, the arbitration agreements made by the team and it’s eligible players clarified the Phillies’ payroll situation for 2019. Even with Nola and the Phils far apart in their contract negotiations for 2019, and with pre-arbitration numbers not finalized, we can estimate a Phillies payroll for 2019 of about $146-148 million, roughly $58-60 million under the $206 million luxury tax.
Unless one of those players can be had on a cheaper deal, it would be tough to squeeze both players under that number, unless the Phillies dealt some of their arbitration-eligible players, like Maikel Franco or Nick Williams, or young players under contract, like Odubel Herrera or Scott Kingery. The Phils could make additional room if they traded Pat Neshek or Tommy Hunter as well, but it would still leave them with little wiggle room for in-season acquisitions, trades, or free agent bargains in spring training.
Without knowing the specifics of the contracts Harper or Machado would sign, it’s impossible to say whether signing both would be wise or not. But it’s important to remember both players are 26 years old and have, at various times, been among the best five or 10 players in the sport who are just now entering their prime.
Unless the team wants to save some of that money to sign a starter like Dallas Keuchel, a closer like Craig Kimbrel, or trade for a high-priced player mid-season, they should absolutely sign both players.
Of course, signing both wouldn’t matter if owner John Middleton didn’t care about the luxury tax. That would make all this a moot point.
And while Gelb’s piece indicated the Phils will not sign both guys, another report indicates that may not be the case.
I’m hearing this story may not be on point. I’m hearing If the #Phillies could sign both, they would. Not sure that other teams may sign one or both could sign elsewhere. Phillies in mix for each player. @SportsRadioWIP https://t.co/ZeeCTvh7PV— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) January 15, 2019
It certainly plays into the Phillies’ favor to be coy. Staking yourself to a position at this stage of the game reduces the team’s leverage, and it’s clear if the Phils are going to sign both, they need to maintain leverage on both.
And while the idea of this nonsense stretching into February is enough to make the crazy crackle in your brain, the wait will have been worth it if they’re able to lock in both.
If the Phillies don’t sign Harper and Machado, it’s possible they could spend some of their remaining cash in a few other places.
The #Phillies, according to team executives, have visions of signing Harper,— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 15, 2019
Keuchel and Kimbrel.
Now we’re talking “stupid money!”
Obviously, signing Keuchel and Kimbrel would be a big help to a starting rotation that could use a left-handed starter and a bullpen that could certainly benefit from getting the best closer on the market. But is it better than landing Machado?
There’s been some sentiment within #Phillies org that Keuchel represents rotation upgrade, but a) probably not on 5-yr deal and b) more so if Phils improve INF defense given Keuchel’s extreme groundball tendencies. But he is LHP, and pitching coach Chris Young knows him from HOU.— Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) January 15, 2019
Keuchel on a four-year deal would be outstanding if they cannot land Machado, but yes, the infield defense would need to be better, and that would indicate the Phils should target Machado or find a better defensive third baseman next year than Maikel Franco.
Yes, we are still waiting for some definitive information to come down the pike, and until that happens, we will continue to read the tea leaves.