As the start of free-agency nears, the chatter of where superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will land will only increase. Throughout the season, both All-Stars were expected to have a litany of potential suitors. But the list may not be as long as originally expected.
As Bob Nightengale said on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast (around the 40-minute mark), there might be only a few teams interested in Machado and Harper:
“I think there’s only three teams that could get involved [for Bryce Harper], really. I think it’s the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and the [San Francisco] Giants. I don’t see any other team in there. I don’t see the [Los Angeles] Dodgers involved, I don’t see the [Chicago] Cubs involved.
I think it’s a very limited market. Same with Machado. [New York] Yankees, Phillies, and that’s about it, just cause teams don’t want to shell out 300 plus million.”
There is a lot to take away from Nightengale’s quotes. It very well could be a negotiation tactic from the agents in order to get higher payroll teams involved in order to produce bidding wars. Bryce Harper slashed .249/.393/.496 in 2018 with 34 home runs and 100 RBIs, while Machado slashed .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. Both players had very productive years, and will want to get the most money they possibly can.
Of course, there’s also a chance that the Phillies could be one of the only realistic teams that could sign either Harper or Machado. Bovada, courtesy of Oddshark, recently released each team’s odds of signing Machado and Harper. The Phillies were even on signing Harper, and were +150 on signing Machado. They have the best odds of signing both of the young hitters.
As Nightengale also said, teams are hesitant to give out $300 or $400 million contracts, regardless of Harper and Machado’s talent and ages. Fancred’s Jon Heyman recently reported that an anonymous executive believes the Phillies could be the only team willing to give Machado a $300 million contract. It’s unclear if the Phillies would be willing to approach that rate for Harper, though to sign him they presumably would need to.
There’s also the fact to consider that many teams that were once seen as potential destinations for Machado and Harper have since seen their resources go towards other players. The Cubs, for instance, already have a set outfield with Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Jr. and Jason Heyward, who they invested $184 million in back in 2016. In addition, Kris Bryant has a hold on third base while Javier Baez is set at shortstop.
The Dodgers are also in a similar situation with Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger all claiming starting spots in the outfield. They also have Corey Seager and Justin Turner in the infield. It would be tough to see how Machado or Harper could fit unless major trades occurred.
In addition, both the Cubs and Dodgers have current payrolls of $179 million and $133 million respectively, according to Spotrac. The Phillies, meanwhile, had a payroll under $70 million in 2018, largely because they have a team of pre-arbitration eligible players.
If Nightengale’s sentiments prove to be true, then the Phillies may feel very strongly about their chances of nabbing one or both of the superstars. In regards to the Harper situation, the Phillies could safely outbid either the Giants or the Nationals, were it to come down to that. The Giants are coming off a 73-89 season and currently have a payroll of $142 million. While money will play a huge role in where Harper lands, a team’s competitiveness will presumably be important too. The Giants play in a tough National League West, where the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and the aforementioned Dodgers will all be competing for a division title. Even with Harper, the Giants may not have enough talent to be a serious contender.
Harper is already plenty familiar with the Nationals, having played with them for the past seven years. While Harper went to the All-Star Game six times and won the National League MVP during that period, the Nationals never once advanced past the NLDS in four playoff appearances, despite the team being favorites to win the championship in numerous years. The situation may have played itself out in D.C.
As for Machado, a two-time Gold Glove winner at third base, the Yankees being in the hunt isn’t a surprise. Back in August, Heyman reported that Machado’s preference is to return to an East-coast based team in free agency, and that he and his family was “all in on their love of the Yankees and New York.” Whether that still holds up remains to be seen, but one would expect both the Phillies and Yankees to both have Machado on the top of their free-agent wishlists, given how hard the two teams pursued Machado back in July. NBC Sports Philadelphia‘s Jim Salisbury reported that some Phillies brass may be lukewarm on signing Machado after his controversial comments about how he isn’t a ‘Johnny Hustle’ kind of player. Afterward, however, Heyman reported that the Phillies weren’t likely to shy away from either Machado or Harper.
The lack of serious suitors for both Machado and Harper could strengthen the idea of the Phillies bringing aboard both Machado and Harper. Heyman explained that while the Phillies signing both stars is unlikely, it was still possible. As Jerry Crasnick said, managing partner John Middleton has become a “driving force” for the Phillies and has “no reservations about spending money.” The lack of bidding teams could amount to contracts with less money than expected given to Machado and Harper. It could be the ideal situation for Middleton to make his move.
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