As the offseason began, there were visions of both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado becoming Phillies. In the time since then, it has become either-or with Machado seemingly being the favored target of the Phillies front office. Now that visits with both players are over, Machado has an official offer from the Phillies and Harper will be receiving one soon. How that’s all going to play out is anybody’s guess.
At this point, the Phillies seem to believe that either player is fine with them and in some respects, their meeting with Harper may have put him slightly ahead of Machado. There are various scenarios for how it all plays out, none of which have the Phillies signing both, but there is one that has them signing Harper and then pivoting to other free agents.
The #Phillies, according to team executives, have visions of signing Harper,
Keuchel and Kimbrel.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 15, 2019
If the Phillies were to get Harper, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel to go along with recently acquired David Robertson, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen, it would be the most productive offseason since the Phillies signed Pete Rose.
Keuchel would give the Phillies the left-handed starter that they’ve been pursuing and Kimbrel – with all of his quirky mound actions, which have been taunted by Phillies fans in the past – the lockdown closer that they need, they would quickly become a favorite not just to win the division but to possibly be a World Series contender.
The Phillies have the money to do it because of a new television contract kicking in, but the long-term implications of the deals could be too restrictive for them to consider. Right now, the Phillies payroll is small because of the young players that they’ve got on the 40-man roster. Eventually though, those players will get their money. Aaron Nola is already eligible for arbitration and seeking big bucks and Maikel Franco is eligible for free agency following the 2021 season and recently signed a one-year, $5.2-million deal which will continue to escalate from there.
Add in Rhys Hoskins, who becomes arbitration eligible following the 2020 season and figure on a new deal for Cesar Hernandez, who would be a free agent after the 2020 season. Then, there are pitchers Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta who will want paydays and the cost of eventually replacing Jake Arrieta, whose deal is done after the 2020 season and it’s not hard to find where a lot of money is going to need to be allocated.
While it’s easy to kick the financial can down the road and focus on the here and now, the front office can’t ignore the bigger picture that includes a vision of the future front and center. Yes, the Phillies can spend stupid money but they also need to have a stash of smart money for down the road.
The thought is though that as time goes on, prices of free agents – both in terms of money and years – will start to fall. What appears somewhat prohibitive now could be very doable at some point in the not too distant future; say, a month from now.
So why not go out and sign Keuchel and Kimbrel now and use that as a selling tool for Harper or Machado? Good question. The Phillies have sniffed around the edges on both Keuchel and Kimbrel but aren’t reported to have offered a contract to either pitcher. It would seem smart to go out and get at least one of those pitchers, if possible. After all, Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ have pretty well set the market for pitching. Even if the Phillies come away with either Machado or Harper and either Keuchel or Kimbrel – especially Keuchel – that would still be a huge haul and the Phillies have other relievers who could potentially become the type of closer Kimbrel is, albeit at a cheaper price.
As agonizingly slow as the free agent market has been, it figures to pick up in the near future; literally any day now. There could be a quick succession of dominoes that begin to fall once Harper or Machado sign as teams have a more concrete idea of the market for players and those who missed out on the superstars pivot to the second tier of players like A.J. Pollock, another free agent whom the Phillies have shown an interest in signing.
As Philadelphia and the surrounding area braces for snow this weekend, the baseball world braces for what could become a wild build up to spring training in the next couple of weeks.