There’s a good chance that if you go to the “rumors” page of Phillies Nation, the name you’ll see discussed most frequently over a decade-and-a-half of coverage of the team will be Manny Machado.
Around 2015, the baseball world became aware of a potentially historic free-agent class after the 2018 season that could include Machado and Bryce Harper at age-26. After years of speculation, the Baltimore Orioles, who employed Machado for the first six-and-a-half seasons of his career, began to admit last offseason what the rest of the world knew – Machado wasn’t going to be an Oriole past 2018. So they listened to offers for Machado, who was still just 25 at the time. The Phillies, like they would be again in the summer of 2018, were a serious suitor for the two-time Gold Glove Award winner. But the Orioles didn’t trade Machado ahead of the 2018 season, and when former general manager Dan Duquette eventually dealt his franchise icon last July, the Phillies were unwilling to part with No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez for only a few guaranteed months of the four-time All-Star. Machado ended up with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he would help the club reach a second consecutive World Series, but became a public relations nightmare.
The Phillies wouldn’t part with Sanchez – who they eventually traded for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto – because they had a good feeling that wherever Machado finished the 2018 season, they would have a chance to woo him on the open market after the season. They got that chance. Machado, along with his wife Yainee, visited Citizens Bank Park on Dec. 20, 2018. Electrician Tom Cudeyro took a selfie with Machado that had a chance to become iconic in Philadelphia sports lure.
But when the dust finally cleared on Machado’s free-agency on Feb. 21, 2019, Machado joined the likes of Marcus Mariota and Andrew Wiggins, players long connected with Philadelphia who never went on to actually play a game for a Philadelphia sports team. Instead, the 26-year-old agreed to a 10-year/$300 million free-agent contract with the San Diego Padres, which included an opt-out after the fifth year.
On missing out on Machado, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told the collective media, which included MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki, that the deal Machado agreed to “exceeded our valuation” and “sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.”
So just how much did the Phillies value Machado?
Matt Gelb of The Athletic says that the Phillies “never made a final offer.” After a postseason with notable public gaffes, including his infamous “Johnny Hustle” comment, Gelb says that the Phillies were aware that the public reaction to issuing a historic deal to Machado may not be great. Even if you are very high on a player, it’s a tough sell to give said player a record-breaking deal if you know that at least a percentage of your customers will view the player negatively from the get-go.
The Phillies, per Gelb, offered Machado an eight-year/$225 million deal early in the process, presumably after he visited Citizens Bank Park. That was probably never meant to be a final offer – in fact, Gelb says that the Phillies did increase their offer on multiple occasions – but it gives you an idea on how far apart they were from the deal Machado ultimately signed.
From here, the feeling from the Phillies may have been that they preferred to have Machado over Harper over a seven or eight-year stretch. Third base is a more important position than right field, and while Machado has been historically good as a third baseman, Harper’s defensive metrics plummeted in a contract year. At the same time, Machado has had arthroscopic surgery on both knees. If we toss out his 2018 season – where he primarily played shortstop – his defensive metrics had begun to decline at third base in 2016 and 2017. Make no mistake, Machado was still a strong fielder, but he went from posting 35 defensive runs saved at third base in 2013 to six in 2017. Expecting someone to remain an elite fielder into their mid-30s, especially with some questions about how money could affect their approach, wouldn’t be a very smart thing to do.
Instead, the Phillies bet on the ultra-competitive Harper being the better player over the lifetime of a contract. They ultimately went well past the eight years offered to Machado, with Harper ultimately signing a 13-year/$330 million deal. Whether signing Harper for 13 years will look smart in 2029 remains to be seen, but spreading his record-breaking amount of total money out over a few extra years will help the Phillies to stay under the luxury tax threshold. And you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Philadelphia reacting negatively to this deal – you certainly won’t among the hordes of fans splurging on tickets.
The link between Machado and Harper won’t stop here, of course. For the rest of their careers – and certainly as long as they play under their current contracts – the two will be compared and contrasted. After the 2023 season, Machado, who will be 31, can opt-out of his contract with the Padres and become a free-agent again. Harper insisted on there not being an opt-out anywhere in his deal. The Phillies may have saved themselves a few years of worrying about whether they’ll be stuck having to decide whether to re-sign an early-30s Harper, but they’ve also locked themselves into what will certainly be some leaner years with Harper. Machado is only signed through his age-35 season, and may opt-out before that, leaving the Padres just on the hook for paying him for what should be the peak of his career.
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