In December of 2015, I penned a piece suggesting that the Phillies – just days after trading 25-year-old closer Ken Giles to the Houston Astros – were setting themselves up to be in a very good position to court a 26-year-old Bryce Harper in free-agency after the 2018 season. We’re now just months away from what’s been the most anticipated free-agent class in baseball history. All indications seem to suggest that it’s actually Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, who will also reach free-agency at age 26 this offseason, that the Phillies are most interested in. That said, the guess here is that if Machado goes elsewhere, Matt Klentak’s front-office wouldn’t have a problem pivoting to Harper.
There is a scenario where the Phillies miss out on both this offseason. Harper could stay in D.C. Machado isn’t going to stay in Baltimore, but it’s entirely possible he could end up in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. In the event that happens, the next superstar that the Phillies could potentially target would be Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Arenado, who turned 27 in April, is a three-time All-Star that’s currently on-pace to start at third base for the National League All-Star team later this month. He’s also a five-time Gold Glove Award winner, who FanGraphs says has been the sixth best fielder at his position in 2018. Oh, and he can become a free-agent after the 2019 season.
What are the chances that Arenado leaves the Rockies? It’s hard to tell exactly. But after a loss to the Dodgers Sunday, the Rockies are 41-43. While they’re just six games out of the lead in the National League West, they’re behind three teams – the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. They’re five games back of the Phillies for the second Wild Card spot in the National League. And that doesn’t sit well with Arenado.
“I don’t want to lose anymore. I just hate it,’’ Arenado told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “It’s tough on you. I’ve only been to the playoffs once, and it was only one game and then it’s gone. We got kicked out quick.”
The Rockies went 87-75 in 2017, allowing them to claim the final Wild Card spot in the National League. Arenado’s first stint in the playoffs was short-lived, however, as the Rockies lost 1-0 to the Diamondbacks in the Wild Card Game. In the four seasons prior to that, the Rockies posted a .437 winning percentage. Arenado went on to say that he’s “jealous” looking around the division at some of the success his biggest rivals have had.
“I want to win a division so we actually play a series,” he continued to Nightengale. “I see the Dodgers, and the guys over there, and they’ve won this division the last five years. I know some of the Giants players. They’ve got their World Series rings.”
Arenado is in his sixth season in the league. He’s producing at a pace that will allow him to garner Hall of Fame consideration at the conclusion of his career. He did say in the piece that he would be willing to listen to any potential extension discussions from the Rockies this offseason. He also said he won’t be the first to bring up the topic. And based off of his quotes, he probably won’t be in a hurry to agree to an extension if the Rockies miss the playoffs in 2018.
Should the Phillies miss out on Machado and Harper in free-agency, an interesting pivot could be to call Jeff Bridich and inquire on the availability of Arenado. The natural response from the Rockies may be to balk at the idea of trading their 27-year-old superstar. But based off of how poorly the Machado situation has played out for the Orioles, they may feel inclined to maximize their return if they don’t get the sense they’ll be able to retain Arenado past next season.
No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez, who has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, is likely off the table in any trade situation. The same goes for Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola. But beyond those three, it’s hard to imagine anyone that the Phillies wouldn’t give up to acquire Arenado entering his age-28 season if he was willing to agree to a long-term extension upon being acquired.
Though it would require waiting an entire season, the best-case scenario for the Phillies (if we assume that Machado and Harper are out of the picture) might be for Arenado to hit the open market after the 2019 season. If he hit the open market, it may increase the value of his next contract, but signing him wouldn’t require giving up a wealth of prospect ammunition. And in the words of Arenado himself, he’s not going to command as much money as Machado or Harper will on the open market. It would still require more money than the Phillies have ever dolled out in franchise history, but you can bet it would be a price that managing partner John Middleton would be eager to meet if he doesn’t reel in a big fish this offseason.