Manny Machado climbed out of a silver SUV at 12:14 p.m. Thursday and took about seven steps on the sidewalk along Pattison Avenue before he was stopped by a worker from a nearby construction site.
“Super Bowl champs!” the man said, pointing across the street to Lincoln Financial Field. “World Series here. Do the right thing and sign! Get the money!”
Welcome to Philly, Manny.
In what could easily be characterized as the biggest day of Matt Klentak’s three-year tenure as general manager, the Phillies hosted Machado at Citizens Bank Park for slightly more than four hours, then took him to dinner.
Team officials had questions for Machado, likely pertaining to his behavior during the postseason, but their main objective was to sell the 26-year-old superstar free agent on playing here for the better part of the next decade rather than signing with another suitor, namely, the New York Yankees, the team with which he has long been enamored.
And so, the Phillies gave Machado the full red-carpet treatment. Accompanied by his wife, Yainee, and agent Dan Lozano, Machado saw the obligatory picture of his face with a superimposed Phillies cap posted on Phanavision. He got a tour of the clubhouse, workout facilities, and other areas of the park that he wouldn’t see as a visiting player. He listened to reasons he should move back to third base and got a crash course on the team’s short- and long-term goals.
Mostly, though, the Phillies tried to appeal to Machado as the centerpiece player they need to go from a young team on the rise to a serious World Series contender.
Did it work?
"It was pretty awesome," Machado told reporters as he signed a few autographs for fans in the rain while walking back to the SUV. "I learned a lot about the organization. It was fun."
As always, money speaks the loudest. Machado, like fellow marquee free agent Bryce Harper, is seeking a record payout, which means a deal that exceeds either the average annual value of Zack Greinke’s contract ($34.4 million) or the total value of Giancarlo Stanton’s ($325 million).
It’s not known whether Machado left the meeting with a formal offer from the Phillies, although one figures to be forthcoming. Owner John Middleton suggested last month that he’s willing to be “a little bit stupid” about how much money the team spends this winter. Machado will be the biggest test of how far Middleton and partners Jim and Pete Buck are willing to go.
It stands to reason that the Phillies will have to outspend the Yankees -- maybe by a lot. In an interview last week, longtime former Orioles coach Bobby Dickerson confirmed all the common presumptions about Machado, including his preference for playing shortstop and his desire to follow childhood idol Alex Rodriguez to New York. With incumbent shortstop Didi Gregorius sidelined for at least half of next season while recovering from right elbow surgery, the Yankees can offer Machado a chance to do both.
How much will it take to outbid the Yankees? The situation may be comparable to five years ago, when the Seattle Mariners landed free agent Robinson Cano with a 10-year, $240 million contract that was three years longer and $65 million more than the Yankees' best offer. It might take a similar overpayment from the Phillies, especially since they’re asking Machado to play third base alongside recently acquired shortstop Jean Segura.
It was against that backdrop that Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler greeted Machado and his camp at the locked door to the main executive entrance of Citizens Bank Park.
"Hey, Manny. What's up?" Klentak said. "Come on in."
The presence of a construction worker harked back to 2002, when the Phillies invited free agent Jim Thome for a recruiting visit. As Thome toured the site that would become Citizens Bank Park, a local electricians' union famously made a sales pitch that helped persuade the Hall of Fame slugger to sign with the Phillies.
Unlike that public courtship, the Phillies were secretive about their plans for Machado. Middleton was present for the meeting. So were team president Andy MacPhail and assistant general manager Ned Rice, who, like Klentak, worked for the Orioles in 2010, when Baltimore drafted Machado with the third overall pick.
Hitting coach John Mallee and bench coach Rob Thomson flew in for the occasion. A host of other team officials were present, too.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said last month that he wanted Machado to explain his postseason antics, particularly the controversial interview with Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal in which he described himself as “not the type of player that’s going to be “Johnny Hustle.” Phillies officials haven’t seemed as concerned. If anything, they got a firsthand look at Machado’s maximum effort on July 23 when he legged out a triple and then slid headfirst into home plate to beat a tag on a medium-depth sacrifice fly to help the Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Phillies.
“We do our best to evaluate the total player, everything that player brings to the table — offense, defense, baserunning, their makeup, their work ethic, their age, their health histories,” Klentak said last month. "We factor in all of those characteristics and make roster decisions accordingly. It’s unlikely that you’re going to find the player that is elite in every single one of those areas. Sometimes you have to pick and choose what you’re willing to bet on.”
The Phillies appear poised to bet on Machado, who wrapped up an eventful week. He met with the Chicago White Sox on Monday and the Yankees on Wednesday. He’s scheduled to fly home to Miami on Friday morning.
It’s not clear when he will choose a team, but given the complexity of negotiating such a large contract, it’s possible Machado will remain unsigned until early January. Eventually, though, he will do as the construction worker told him and get the money, either from the Phillies or another team.