Philadelphia Phillies icon Jimmy Rollins once said that he thought if John Middleton became the Phillies majority owner, his ambition was to be “George Steinbrenner South.” Middleton, one of the wealthiest citizens of Pennsylvania, still owns just under 50 percent of the Phillies, but he apparently has dreams that would make “The Boss” proud.
According to ESPN.com‘s Jerry Crasnick, there are some in the sport that think Middleton will attempt to lure both Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado and Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper to Philadelphia this offseason:
Owner John Middleton has emerged as a driving force in Philly. He’s very aggressive and has no reservations about spending money. This is hard to fathom, but I’ve talked to people who think he might try to sign both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as free agents this winter. https://t.co/kT9jzpul9M
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 15, 2018
The thought from some, obviously, is that the Phillies are making a push to acquire Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, giving them an advantage down the stretch of the 2018 season and potentially the upper-hand in re-signing him this offseason. Crasnick’s colleague Buster Olney tweeted yesterday that the Phillies, along with the National League-best Milwaukee Brewers, are among the finalists to acquire Machado in the coming days.
Machado, who turned 26 earlier this month, is in the midst of the best offensive season of his career. Now a four-time All-Star, Machado is slashing .313/.384/.566 with 23 home runs, 64 RBIs and a 25.2 offensive WAR. With that said, in his move back to his natural position of shortstop, Machado has struggled. A two-time Gold Glove winner at third base, Machado has graded out as the worst fielding shortstop in 2018, a position he has made clear that he intends to sign his next contract to play at. The Phillies are reportedly willing to accommodate his desire to play shortstop.
This free-agent class has been eyed by some for the better part of five years. The two prizes of the class were expected to be the aforementioned Machado, and Harper, who will also be 26 when he reaches free-agency.
While Machado has had a career-year offensively on the cusp of free-agency, Harper has had a down year by his standards. While Harper will play in his sixth All-Star Game next week, he’s hitting at just .214. With that said, he still has a positive offensive WAR, is second only to Mike Trout in walk percentage, has 23 home runs and 54 RBIs. It hasn’t been an ideal contract year for Harper, but it hasn’t been a bad year by any means.
In theory, there’s quite a bit of risk in signing one player to a deal of 10 years in excess of $300 million. Signing two players in one offseason to deals of that magnitude would cause some executives to clutch their pearls. With that said, both would only be 26. If they sign massive contracts and play them out, the Phillies would be getting two Hall of Fame caliber talents from age 26 to 35. There are worse things that could happen. More likely is that the two would have opt-outs negotiated into their contracts, meaning they could opt-out of their deals and test free-agency again in their early-30’s. That’s when the really tough decisions on Machado and Harper (whether to re-sign or let walk) would have to take place.
For what it’s worth, while the Orioles – and some teams that could potentially trade for Machado – would stand no chance to re-sign him this offseason, the Nationals are expected to at least be in the discussion to retain their franchise icon this offseason. That doesn’t mean a team like the Phillies couldn’t swoop in and sign him, but they will certainly be met with some resistance by their divisional rival if they attempt to do that.