LAS VEGAS — It was never realistic to think that the Phillies would hit the free-agency exacta and sign both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this offseason. It did, however, seem quite plausible that they would sign one or the other, while also adding a quality left-handed pitcher and possibly a veteran reliever. Check off that to-do list and the 10-win jump from 80 to 90 that general manager Matt Klentak believes is necessary to be a serious postseason contender would be in clear focus.
That scenario will still be in play when Klentak checks out of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Thursday morning and heads back to Philadelphia, but it also seemed entirely possible that the Phillies could be shut out of the Harper-Machado sweepstakes and not add one of the big-name starters who are starting to be deleted from the free-agent market.
Would that be the doomsday scenario?
At the very least, it would not sit well with the paying customers at Citizens Bank Park, because they have sat through six straight losing seasons and have been inflicted with a seven-year itch since the Phillies last sniffed postseason play.
Sal from South Philly, Manny from Manayunk, and Charlene from Cherry Hill are expecting more than Andrew McCutchen, the former National League MVP who officially became a corner outfielder for the Phillies on Wednesday night. They are also expecting more than Jean Segura, a two-time All-Star shortstop, and the two relief pitchers (Juan Nicasio and James Pazos) acquired in the trade that sent J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana to the Seattle Mariners.
Agent Scott Boras, once persona non grata in Philadelphia, feels as though he has exactly what the Phillies need. Of course, he feels he has what every team in baseball needs but only a handful can afford. With the meetings in their final full day Wednesday, Boras appeared in front of a 50-foot Christmas tree and lit up the room with his thoughts on Bryce Harper.
Recently, it has seemed as though the Phillies’ sights are set more on Machado than Harper, and, without mentioning Machado by name, he acknowledged that he is an outstanding player. In Boras’ mind, however, he is not Bryce Harper.
“I think when you’re talking about Bryce Harper, it’s just a different situation,” Boras said. “There are a lot of really good ballplayers out there. There really are. They are exceptional. But Bryce’s situation has a dynamic about it in terms of what he brings to an ownership and the iconic side of it. It has certainly an appeal, because he is really a player that has the ability to economically pay for himself independent of the performance.”
Compare the overall numbers between Harper and Machado and they are quite similar. Harper does have a considerably higher on-base percentage (.388 to Machado’s .335) and OPS (.900 to .822) and he would likely excite the fan base in Philadelphia more.
“I think that, in the end, all organizations are going to look back on this opportunity,” Boras said. “They’re going to look back on it and they’re going to say, ‘What should I have done? How should I have done it? What steps should I have taken?’ These are pivotal moments. There are a lot of organizations and general managers that will be evaluated about what they did do or didn’t do when you have the availability of a player like that.”
His point is that he sees Harper as a generational player, a 26-year-old free agent who has already won an MVP award and should be just entering his prime. But this market has two guys like that. If you don’t get the Lamborghini, then you’ll happily settle for the Rolls-Royce.
When this offseason started, it seemed as if the Phillies were going to at least get one or the other.
Boras said that Harper “respects the organization” and that the Phillies are “certainly on his list” of places he’d be willing to play. The agent was also complimentary of the Phillies’ most visible and vocal owner. You know, John Middleton, the guy who said the Phillies were ready to spend “stupid” money this offseason.
“In a life and a career, if I looked at where John is, I would really like to be that stupid,” Boras said. “I really felt he was an owner who had just a strong commitment to his goals and bringing this team to playoff and championship levels.”
That’s true, but there is also a sense that Middleton’s thinking on all things Phillies is aligned exactly with the way general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail see things.
The Phillies had a chance to sign lefty J.A. Happ at these meetings after missing out on Patrick Corbin earlier this month. Happ, however, was reportedly close to sealing a three-year deal with the New York Yankees Wednesday night. The list of quality starting pitching is dwindling. It would not be surprising if Machado landed with the Yankees, too. And it’s not far-fetched to think that Harper will sign with the Dodgers, who reportedly are trying to trade Yasiel Puig to the Cincinnati Reds.
Machado is still scheduled to come to Philadelphia for a visit next week, but suddenly this special offseason so many expected to materialize for the Phillies might not be.
“Until players sign somewhere else, we’re going to maintain our engagement with them,” Klentak said. “There’s no reason to think they’re out.”
That’s nice, but it’s definitely not the same as being all-in.