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With Machado in San Diego, will the Phillies go all-in on Harper?

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The next few days will be extremely interesting.

Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

nWell, one of the shoes has dropped. Manny Machado will not be coming to Philadelphia.

Now, it’s Bryce or Bust.

It seems like months ago when Manny Machado was accosted by some random union guy as he walked into his highly anticipated meeting with Phillies officials at Citizens Bank Park.

Hang on, it was months ago!

At the time, Machado was the unquestioned apple of their eye, the Phils’ primary free agent target, and Bryce Harper was the clear No. 2. But today, the San Diego Padres jumped in front of the Phillies and signed Machado to a surprising 10-year, $300 million deal, with an opt-out after the fifth season.

We don’t know what the Phillies’ offers were to Machado, but NBC Sports’ Jim Salisbury reported agent Dan Lozano gave the Phils a chance to beat San Diego’s proposal, which they chose not to do, and general manager Matt Klentak’s explanation was both mystifying and infuriating.

“There’s a certain value that we believe a player brings and we were willing to be aggressive,” Klentak said in a meeting with reporters later in the day. “If the reports are true, then this contract will exceed our valuation and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.

It’s clear the Phillies decided that paying Machado $300 million was a bridge too far. Yes, the deal is the largest free agent contract ever given out in the history of American sports, and yes, over the last couple months, it didn’t appear as if Machado and Lozano were going to find a team to go that high. But at the start of the off-season, $300 million was seen by most as the floor for Machado and Harper, so one wonders at what point the Phils decided that number was no good for them.

It’s also unclear if the Phillies knew the exact contractual numbers of the San Diego deal. So, there are four possibilities here.

  1. The Phillies didn’t bother to get a set of numbers from the agent and just said, “Nah, we’re good.”
  2. Lozano told them the deal was 10 years at $300 million and they thought he was bluffing and called their bluff.
  3. The Phils believed Lozano’s numbers but they “exceeded their valuation.”
  4. The Phillies believed the numbers and passed anyway because they now want Harper more.

I sure hope it’s Option No. 4.

The Phils got a chance to “stay in the game” and chose not to, which flies in the face of all their actions and the reporting we had heard for months that Machado was their preferred player. But there’s no doubt Harper has been the choice of most fans the whole time, and rumors had been growing that talks between the Phillies and Scott Boras had been intensifying. What the Machado contract does to those negotiations is anyone’s guess. Certainly, Machado’s $300 million deal has to make Harper and Boras feel good about their bargaining position.

As for Klentak’s “exceeded their valuation” quote, it was very poorly worded and ill-advised.

The Phillies have done excellent work this off-season, the team has improved on paper and Matt Klentak has made good decisions thus far. They are better defensively and at a number of key positions, but sacrificed their top prospect, Sixto Sanchez, and two young players in J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro, to do so, all of which makes Klentak’s “exceeded our valuation” quote even more galling.

Everyone assumed when the Phillies got involved with Machado and Harper, and after Middleton said the team was prepared to spend money and some of it “perhaps in a stupid way,” the team wouldn’t be afraid to go all-in on mega-money deals. To hear Klentak use the phrase “exceeded our valuation” with regard to a 26-year-old potential Hall of Fame player, a player that for a long time was their No. 1 target, feels like a complete 180-degree turn.

The other possibility is our perceptions of their interest were wrong all along.

Regardless of the reason, it’s clear Phillie fans won’t be happy with this off-season unless they get Bryce Harper, and Klentak talked about the perceived notion among the fanbase that it was now “Bryce Or Bust.” (quote via Scott Lauber, Philly.com).

“We will continue to proceed with other free agents that make sense for this franchise. We have to remember that there will be other free agents after this offseason. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to spend money and to make our team better. We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs. There’s a significant cost that we’re willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point.”

But perhaps more telling was when Klentak was asked if they would walk away from giving $300 million to Harper, too. (quote via Matt Breen, Philly.com).

“I won’t comment on that,” Matt Klentak said. “I’ll say this, every player is different. They bring different strengths, weaknesses, risks, rewards, etc.”

So, some hope there.

Happily, it doesn’t seem as if there is much competition for Harper’s services. The White Sox wanted Machado and reportedly thought they had the top offer for him, but GM Ken Williams said they “could not go” to that $300 million level for him. If they weren’t willing to go $300 million for Machado, would they go over that number for Harper? It seems unlikely unless, like the Phillies, they are higher on Harper than Machado.

The Nationals made their initial 10-year, $300 million deal at the end of the regular season, but after being rebuffed went on to sign Patrick Corbin, Brian Dozier, and a number of other free agents. Jayson Stark noted on a 97.5 Fanatic interview with Mike Missanelli that Washington would be way over the luxury tax for a long time if they did it.

“If they were now to add a $35 million a year player, that puts them into the luxury tax purgatory unlike anything we’ve ever seen. They’d be in the 90% luxury tax bracket for eternity!”

Plus, Nats players have been bad-mouthing Harper over the last few days, so a reunion seems unlikely on the surface there, too.

The nightmare scenario is the Dodgers swooping in at the last minute, although that would go against everything team president Andrew Friedman has ever done. It would appear that the Phillies might be the only game in town, but what if there’s a mystery team? Can they afford to tell Scott Boras that his contract demands “exceed their valuations?”

No, they cannot.

This all now lies on the shoulders of team owner John Middleton. If Harper isn’t sold on Philadelphia, as Stark told Missanelli on Tuesday might be the case, the Phils need to make Philly his No. 1 choice with a truck full of cash.

There is no reason to wait for future free agent classes. The NL East is going to be a dogfight and the Phils need Harper to keep up with the rest of the National League. They’ve made moves that indicate they’re ready to win now. Signing Harper is a must. Don’t overthink this.

Most of the city has gotten preemptively angry, and that’s probably not fair to the Phillies front office. At the end of the day, the Phils will probably get their man, and if/when that happens, there will be great rejoicing in the streets.

If the Phillies want Harper, they need to make the 10 year, $326 million offer. If he wants $350 million, do it. Obviously, there is a point where you walk away ($375 million... $400 million?), but for Harper, it’s nowhere close to the line the Phils drew for Machado seemingly out of nowhere. And the reason you’re feeling nervous about all this is that the Phillies are now playing without a net. There is no fallback option.

So in the words of our beloved 1993 Phillies, we implore you, Mr. Middleton... with four simple words.

It’s Harper or Bust.