For the better part of the last half decade, Philadelphia has eyed the 2018-19 MLB offseason as a potentially franchise-altering winter, with both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado set to reach free-agency at age 26. With the Boston Red Sox defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2018 World Series Sunday evening, that offseason has now arrived. And the Phillies will open with very good odds to sign one of the two superstars.
Courtesy of Odds Shark, Bovada has the Phillies entering a crucial offseason with even odds to sign Harper, the 2015 National League MVP:
Red Sox +1500
For those of you that aren’t gamblers, even odds means that if you put $100 on the Phillies signing Harper and that indeed happens, you would win an additional $100. If you are unconcerned with the ramifications for gamblers, Bovada has given the Phillies a 50/50 chance to sign the six-time All-Star. It is important to remember that the job of casinos is to get people to gamble, not necessarily be accurate in predictions, but there’s a reason that the Phillies, not the Tampa Bay Rays, are the team with even odds.
Harper, less than 10 days removed from his 26th birthday, had a peculiar contract year. Despite making his sixth All-Star team, Harper hit just .214 in the first-half of the 2018 season. With that said, he also homered 23 times, drove in 54 runs and walked 78 times prior to the All-Star Break, so his first-half only disappointing by the high standards that he’s set for himself. Though the Washington Nationals weren’t able to save their season after the All-Star Break, Harper played at an MVP caliber following the midsummer classic, slashing .300/.434/.538 with 11 home runs, 46 RBIs and 52 walks in the second-half of the 2018 season.
Any team paying Harper what will certainly be in excess of $200 million would be taking somewhat of a calculated risk. Sure, in 2015 he was historically dominant, hitting .330 and posting a 9.3 fWAR, but Barry Bonds type production hasn’t become the norm for the former No. 1 overall pick. Harper hit just .243 in 2016, while dealing with a right shoulder injury. In 2017, he slashed .319/.413/.595 with 29 home runs, 87 RBIs and a 4.8 fWAR, but a possible run at his second MVP in three years was cut short when a trip over a wet first base bag at Nationals Park limited him to 111 games. And then his 2018 season, at least from the perspective of someone that was playing for a potentially historic contract, was a mixed bag.
At the same time, the Phillies most pressing need may be a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter. When Harper is healthy and things are clicking for him offensively, he’s one of the five most dominant bats in the sport. Players with that type of upside – especially at age 26 – rarely reach free-agency.
Of course, another superstar that’s 26 years old, the aforementioned Machado, will also be a free-agent this offseason. Though his defensive metrics saw a dropoff as he shifted back to his natural position of shortstop, Machado turned in the finest offensive season of his career in 2018, slashing .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs, 107 RBIs and a career-high 35.6 offensive WAR in a season split between the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers.
However, between his controversial “Johnny Hustle” comments and an insinuation that he is a “dirty player,” Machado didn’t do himself any favors this postseason, despite helping the Dodgers to win their second consecutive National League pennant. Whether that impacted the Phillies reported interest in the four-time All-Star – which is one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport, is unclear.
Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports spoke to an anonymous executive during the NLCS that suggested that the Phillies would be the only team willing to approach $300 million to sign Machado this offseason. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia did note, though, that some members of the Phillies organization have gotten cold feet in regards to issuing a historic contract to Machado, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner. Heyman, despite noting that the Phillies are aware that some in the fanbase are less keen on the idea of signing Machado than they were a month ago, still seems to think the Phillies will be an aggressive pursuer of the former first-round pick.
It’s not financially impossible for the Phillies to sign both Harper and Machado this offseason, though your mind tells you that the chances of signing one of the two superstars is much more likely than landing both. So the free-agent campaigns of Harper and Machado will go hand-in-hand, especially for the Phillies.
As of 9 a.m. ET Monday morning, Harper and Machado are free-agents. For the next five days, they can only negotiate a new deal with their current teams. The Nationals will have five days to issue a qualifying offer to Harper, something they certainly will do, assuring they will get draft compensation in return for their franchise icon if he leaves in free-agency. The Dodgers, meanwhile, won’t get anything in return for Machado if he leaves in free-agency, which seems pretty likely, because they acquired him in the middle of the 2018 season.
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