CLEARWATER, Fla. — It has been nearly two months since the Phillies dined in Center City with Manny Machado. Nearly five weeks have passed since the team’s brain trust deboarded a flight in the snow after spending five hours in Las Vegas courting Bryce Harper.
The Phillies were prepared, owner John Middleton famously said in November, to “be a little stupid” this winter with their spending. Yes, they added several pieces this spring. But both of the superstars who have defined this offseason are nowhere to be found in Clearwater.
Harper and Machado are still free agents, and any change in their status does not seem imminent. It would not be a surprise if a decision is delayed until March. The Phillies have upgraded, but it would still feel like a disappointment if an offseason that began with “stupid” ended without a superstar.
“I’m really pleased with the fact that I believe that we’ve put our best foot forward with these guys so far. I’m really pleased with the rest of our offseason,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “That’s why I really want to try to temper the notion that a failure to sign one of these big free agents renders this a bad offseason.
"We’ve had an objectively excellent offseason, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying. We’re going to keep pushing. Our ownership demands nothing less than us continuing to push. We’re comfortable with where we’re at right now, and we’ll just have to play it out.”
The Phillies, Klentak said, have “not been bored this offseason” despite the slow-moving negotiations with the superstar free agents. They committed $180 million by signing outfielder Andrew McCutchen and relief pitcher David Robertson, extending starter Aaron Nola, and trading for shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto.
The Phillies, even with those moves, still have as much financial flexibility as any other team, and perhaps most important, they have an owner clearly motivated to spend.
Rhys Hoskins and Jake Arrieta, both of whom share an agent with Harper, said Thursday that they expect the Phillies to start the season with Machado or Harper on the team. Arrieta, who is familiar with waiting for a contract -- he went unsigned last year until March -- said that “there’s no inclination that we’re not the favorite or at least one of the favorites.”
“I don’t think it’s going to come down to the money,” Arrieta said. “I think it’s going to come down to the players deciding what city, what team is the best fit for them. Where do they fit in the best? It’s tough to say. But I could definitely see at least one of those guys here.”
Klentak was less affirmative than two of his clubhouse leaders, saying chances of landing Harper or Machado are “hard for me to handicap.”
The general manager has already had a strong winter. The team that gathered this week in Florida is much better than the one that collapsed in the final two months of last season. Klentak said the winter has been a success, but there’s no doubt that even he will feel some sting if his swings come up empty.
“The notion that we hear is that if we fail to sign a big free agent, then it’s a failure of an offseason. I don’t agree with that,” Klentak said. “I’m not trying to throw cold water on the idea that we may still sign a free agent. We are going to continue to explore that market because there are several really good free agents out there.”