For the better part of the last five years, Philadelphia Phillies fans have eyed the 2018-19 offseason as one that could help the Phillies return to prominence. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado, two Hall of Fame caliber talents, will reach free-agency this offseason at the age of 26.
Machado, currently in the midst of a playoff run with the Dodgers, has long appeared to be the Phillies No. 1 target. The four-time All-Star slashed .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs, 107 RBIs, 70 walks and a 6.2 fWAR in 2018, a season that he split between the Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. While this was the finest offensive season of his career, Machado, seen as a generational talent defensively at third base, didn’t grade out well defensively in a move back to shortstop, the position he was drafted at.
Harper, meanwhile, slashed .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs, 100 RBIs, 130 walks and a 3.5 fWAR in what could be considered a down season for the former National League MVP. This, however, came a year after he slashed .319/.413/.595 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs in just 111 games, a season that likely would have netted him his second MVP award if it hadn’t been for a freak injury tripping over the first base bag at Nationals Park. Despite a strong arm, Harper hasn’t graded out well defensively since his rookie season of 2012. 2018 was perhaps the most extreme example of that, as the Nationals asked him to play over 475 innings in center field, where he posted -10 defensive runs saved.
Our Phillies Nation staff was polled on which of the two, assuming the Phillies can only sign one, would be a better signing for the Phillies.
Tim Kelly, Phillies Nation Editorial Director
The sad part about this question is when it was first introduced to me, all I could think of was how Facebook commenters will turn this into a discussion about Mike Trout.
In all seriousness, in what may be the most crucial offseason in Phillies history, the team’s biggest need is a middle-of-the-order hitter. (This hitter may ultimately hit in the No. 2 slot and push Rhys Hoskins into the cleanup spot, but would make the Phillies a deeper lineup.) Despite suggestions from credible reporters that there’s some thought around the sport that the Phillies could land both Harper and Machado this offseason, there will likely come a point this offseason where the Phillies are forced to turn their focus to either Harper or Machado. With 10 combined All-Star appearances, either would greatly improve the Phillies offense.
However, I can’t shake the feeling that Harper’s offensive ceiling remains higher.
Sure, Machado slashed .315/.387/.575 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs in the first-half of the 2018 season, but he came back down to earth in the second-half, slashing .273/.338/.437 after the
All-Star Break. It’s fair to point out that he changed teams and note that the Machado that the Dodgers got is still an excellent player, but Harper slashed .300/.434/.538 with 11 home runs, 46 RBIs and 52 walks after a disappointing first-half.
Neither have been perfect players offensively in their young careers. Harper, despite making the All-Star team, hit just .214 prior to the All-Star Break in 2018. At the same time, Machado hit .259 with a -2.5 offensive WAR in 2017. Machado’s best argument over Harper was his Gold Glove caliber fielding at third base, but with a move back to his natural position of shortstop, his defensive metrics plummeted in 2018. Perhaps I can’t forget Harper’s 2015 National League MVP season – when he hit .330 and posted a 9.3 fWAR – but I don’t think we’ve seen the best stretch of Harper’s career yet, which would make him a scary addition to any lineup.
Matthew Veasey, Phillies Nation Staff
Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, which would be a better signing for the Phillies? Wow – that is a genuinely tough one. I think that as a combination they fit perfectly with what the Phillies could currently use – a pair of impact, middle-of-the-order bats, one for the infield, one for the outfield. But you’re putting me on the spot, so I won’t totally cop out.
Both are 26-years-old, broke into the big-leagues at age 19, have played in parts of seven seasons and have roughly 4,000 MLB plate appearances. Harper has a slash line of .279/.388/.512 with 184 homers, 521 RBI, 610 runs, 75 steals. Machado has slashed .282/.335/.487 with 175 homers, 513 RBI, 522 runs, 53 steals.
I would go with Harper. While it’s close, I think that the numbers reveal him to be a more dynamic overall player. But perhaps as importantly for me, he would bring the intangible quality of “personality” that this team is currently lacking. He would be what Bobby Clarke was to the 1970s Flyers, what Pete Rose was to the early-80’s Phillies. He would be a dynamic, fiery personality that fans here would love. I could also see 400 plus home runs flying over the fence at Citizens Bank Park over the next decade.
Drew Rhoades, Phillies Nation Staff
While Machado and Harper are both generational talents, I see Machado as a better free-agent grab for Philadelphia than Harper would be. Consistency is the main reason why.
Over the last four years, Machado has played 162 games in a season twice and has a combined average of .284. In that same span, Harper has a combined average of .283, but has hit below .250 twice. He also missed significant time in 2017, only appearing in 111 games. Harper also dealt with injuries back in 2013-14. If you compare Rhys Hoskins’ 2018 stats to Harper’s, they’re eerily similar. The only difference is that the Phillies aren’t paying Hoskins $300 or $400 million.
Machado’s insistence on playing shortstop may hurt the Phillies, as he graded out as the worst qualified defensive shortstop in 2018. However, him playing shortstop would not affect the Phillies possible plans of moving Carlos Santana to third and Hoskins to first, which could help improve the team’s defense. So it could be considered a draw when taking into account all the pieces moving defensively. Machado playing shortstop also gives the Phillies the opportunity to use Scott Kingery as a super-utility player, or to trade Cesar Hernandez to address another area of need.
Based on personalities alone, Machado has shown to be the player to go out on the field and let his performance do the talking. Coming off a season in which rumors regarding the clubhouse culture flew around left and right, playing it safe may be the better option. While Harper represents the greater risk/reward, Machado represents the safe, middle-of-the-lineup star the Phillies have been craving.
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