CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies were finishing another day in the Florida sun on Tuesday afternoon when the news the team had waited for all winter began to buzz through the back fields of the Carpenter Complex.
Maikel Franco was taking batting practice when someone shouted that Manny Machado had signed with the San Diego Padres. Manager Gabe Kapler was watching his infielders shuffle through drills when he learned of the San Diego’s record-setting deal with Machado. And Rhys Hoskins was stretching when he learned that the Phillies’ focus had shifted to Bryce Harper after Machado landed what ESPN reported is a 10-year contract worth $300 million.
General manager Matt Klentak, two months after he opened the front door for Machado at Citizens Bank Park, had learned earlier in the day after talking to Machado’s agent that the superstar’s price had reached a number that the Phillies were unwilling to match. Machado will sign the largest free-agent contract in the history of American sports.
The Phillies, in an offseason that began with a proclamation to spend stupidly, were being outspent.
“There’s a certain value that we believe a player brings and we were willing to get aggressive on this,” Klentak said. “If the reports are true, then this contract will exceed our valuation, and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.”
Klentak declined Tuesday to say whether the Phillies began this offseason with a preference for Machado or Harper. But it sure seemed that Machado was their priority. Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail drafted Machado with Baltimore in 2010. They tried to acquire him at last summer’s trade deadline, hosted him in Philadelphia a month before they would meet Harper, and coveted his elite defense at third base.
They entered the offseason with confidence that they would begin the 2019 season with either Harper or Machado on their roster. It is nearly unprecedented for players -- let alone superstars -- to reach free agency at 26 years old. The Phillies knew the cost would be high, but their confidence stemmed from the money they readied to spend after four years of low payrolls.
That optimism remained throughout the winter as the pursuit slogged on. That optimism was met with the reality on Tuesday that the Phillies are not the only team with money to spend.
The Phillies, just as they did with Machado, have established a value that they would be willing to spend on Harper. And it does not seem that they would be willing to exceed that value. The Phillies, Klentak confirmed, are still in on Harper. But if $300 million was too much for a player they clearly coveted, does that mean $300 million is too much for Harper?
“I won’t comment on that,” Klentak said. “I’ll say this, every player is different. They bring different strengths, weaknesses, risks, rewards, etc.”
Klentak said last week that the Phillies “had an objectively excellent offseason” and that it would not be a failure if they missed out on Harper and Machado. They upgraded their lineup, bolstered their bullpen, and improved their defense. The Phillies, Klentak said Tuesday, had a “very successful offseason” But the final grade of this offseason -- ever since the Phillies began shedding salary in the summer of the 2015 -- would always be determined by the Phillies’ ability to land a superstar. And it would be objectively disappointing if they came up empty.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs,” Klentak said. “There’s a significant cost that we’re willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point.”