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Phillies may still be engaged, but Padres appear to be favorites for Manny Machado

Manny Machado is a four-time All-Star. (Ian D’Andrea)

When electrician Tom Cudeyro stopped Manny Machado outside of Citizens Bank Park to take a selfie prior to Machado’s free-agent visit with the Philadelphia Phillies on Dec. 20, 2018, some had flashbacks to a prior free-agent visit. Fresh off of a 52-home run season with the Cleveland Indians, Jim Thome was lured to Philadelphia on a six-year/$85 million free-agent contract in December of 2002. Thome credited a group of local electricians for helping him feel at home during his free-agent visit, which helped in his decision to come back to Philadelphia. So it couldn’t hurt to go back the the same well that netted Philadelphia a future Hall of Famer, right?

It probably didn’t hurt, Machado and Cudeyro did take the selfie together. But Thome – a Chicago native that had spent parts of 12 years in Cleveland – may have preferred a blue-collar city more than Machado, who is from Miami and finished his most successful offensive season in Los Angeles. Different people prefer different types of cities.

Just about everyone prefers the highest offer on the table. So while Machado may have taken notice of Phillies fans chanting “We want Manny!” when the Baltimore Orioles visited Citizens Bank Park last July, he probably was never going to come to the Phillies if general manager Matt Klentak didn’t place the best overall offer in front of him.

That may still happen. But while Jon Heyman of MLB Network says that the Phillies remain in touch with Machado’s camp, he, Jim Bowden of CBS and Andy Martino of SNY have suggested in the course of the last 24 hours that the Phillies may be moving in the direction of signing the offseason’s other star free-agent, Bryce Harper.

The San Diego Padres now appear to be the favorite to land Machado, which would have been a laughable sentence to write at the outset of free-agency. The small-market Padres already issued a major deal last offseason, signing former Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year/$144 million deal. The belief dating back to last summer was, for a variety of reasons, that Machado was unlikely to be more of a rental with the Dodgers. More than that, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia wrote shortly after the Phillies finished runner-up to the Dodgers on Machado that Machado hoped to return to the East Coast in free-agency, with the New York Yankees – the team his idol, Alex Rodriguez, was most associated with – seen as his preferred destination.

But, here we are.

The Yankees did meet with Machado, his wife Yainee and his agent Dan Lozano in December, the same week that he also met with the Phillies and Chicago White Sox. But it always appeared that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had no intention of signing Machado to a record-breaking, or even record-approaching, deal. Since that meeting, the Yankees have signed Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu, not altogether taking them out of the Machado sweepstakes, but certainly reducing their financial motivation. The White Sox, per Martino, remain in on Machado, a four-time All-Star.

Meanwhile, Bob Nightengale of USA Today says that the Padres have offered Machado a deal that would be the largest in the history of their franchise. Heyman adds that while Machado’s initial preference was to play on the East Coast, there’s some thought now that he will take the highest offer, even if that isn’t one that allows him to play on the East Coast. Of course, if the Phillies invest their resources in Harper and the Yankees don’t make a competitive offer (or an offer at all), there’s not another known East Coast suitor for Machado.

Machado, 26, had the strongest offensive campaign of his career in 2018, slashing .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. But while he helped the Dodgers to reach a second consecutive World Series, his postseason turned into a public relations disaster, with his now infamous “Johnny Hustle” quote the most notable of a few public gaffes in judgement during the playoff run. That, coupled with an offseason where there aren’t a ton of motivated spenders, even among major market teams, appears to have put Machado is a place where he’ll earn far less than he was once expected to. Sure, no one’s going to feel bad for Machado if he signs an eight-year deal with the Padres in excess of $200 million. But it will be a far cry from what the expectation around the league was a few years ago, when some thought the Yankees and Phillies would be among the teams willing to offer Machado a deal in the range of $400 million.


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