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Manny Machado might be the Phillies' choice based on the rest of their roster | Bob Brookover

The winter meetings opened Monday in Las Vegas and there's speculation that the Phillies might prefer Manny Machado over Bryce Harper in the great free-agent debate.

What's better: Manny Machado in the infield or Bryce Harper in the outfield? Depends on who you ask.
What's better: Manny Machado in the infield or Bryce Harper in the outfield? Depends on who you ask.Read moreMatt Slocum / AP

LAS VEGAS — There’s some thought circulating that the Phillies’ favorite vision of the immediate future includes an infield with Rhys Hoskins at first base, Cesar Hernandez at second base, the recently acquired Jean Segura at shortstop and Manny Machado at third base. In that scenario, Bryce Harper would more than likely play the outfield in some other big-league city.

Nothing is set in stone and the smart money here in the gambling capital of the world is that the winter meetings will come to a close Thursday with the two most sought-after free agents still unsigned and undecided.

The Phillies remain the Las Vegas favorite to sign both superstars, but that’s only because they are expected to get one or the other. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was unsurprisingly asked about both during a morning media session at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. His most interesting answers, however, had nothing to do with Harper and Machado. For the record, he loves them both very much and would be first in line to welcome either one to Philadelphia.

It is possible, however, that the Phillies’ view of players already on their roster will inevitably determine which superstar player they’d rather have. In addition to lauding Harper and Machado, Kapler also spoke extensively about Scott Kingery, Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, three guys who had disappointing 2018 seasons but are young enough and talented enough to make decision makers wonder what they could eventually become. Those kinds of things have to factor into the Harper-Machado debate.

Do you think the Phillies are better with the aforementioned infield and an outfield of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Aaron Altherr and a lesser free agent such as Michael Brantley or A.J. Pollock? Or are they better with an outfield of Harper, Herrera, Williams, Quinn and Altherr and an infield of Hoskins, Hernandez, Segura and either Franco or Kingery at third base?

Read between the lines of some things Kapler said Monday and you could walk away with the impression that the Phillies do indeed favor the Machado scenario.

Kapler has already had a conversation with Kingery about being a jack of all trades again in 2019. That, of course, was the plan at the start of last season, but then J.P. Crawford struggled out of the gate and then spent an extended amount of time on the disabled list with a fractured left hand, allowing Kingery to take over at shortstop.

Little went well offensively for the rookie who had signed a six-year deal worth $24 million based on his work in the minor leagues and spring training.

“Scott Kingery is one of the toughest individuals I’ve ever been around,” Kapler said. “So much so that when I called Scott and said, ‘Hey, we just acquired this shortstop [and] you’re most likely going to move around the diamond again,’ he said, ‘OK, I get it.’ So I think Scott Kingery can handle anything.”

Including third base?

“I think Scott would be a very, very good third baseman,” Kapler said. “I think he proved to all of us that he had his bumps and bruises, but it turned out at the end that he was adequate at shortstop for us. Look, we have some people who think he was very good and others who think he did a really good job. I happened to come out on the side of I thought he was a good shortstop by the end of the season.”

We obviously know now that the Phillies collectively did not think he was good enough at shortstop, which is why Segura will be the opening-day shortstop in 2019. It’s also why Asdrubal Cabera became the regular at shortstop after the trade deadline last season. And if the Phillies do not think he can be their everyday shortstop, it is doubtful they think he can be their everyday third baseman.

So they let him roam and hope an adjusted approach at the plate allows him to recapture the form that made him such a highly regarded minor-league prospect.

“I think he felt like he got in the habit last year of trying to see more pitches and fit into the deep-count lineup that we had,” Kapler said. “The way to do that for him, and I think he knows this, is to be aggressive early in the count. Look for a fastball to attack, get after that fastball and then understand he might foul it back and still work a deep count or he might put it in the gap.”

It stands to reason that the Phillies are less optimistic about Franco achieving the potential so many saw in him when he was a highly regarded prospect. His stock was more attached to the previous regime. The Phillies appeared fully prepared to pull the plug on Franco early last June when Crawford made eight starts in 12 games at third base while Kingery took over at shortstop.

But the Crawford injury provided another opportunity for Franco and he hit .293 with 13 home runs, a .336 on-base percentage and .847 OPS the rest of the way. At the very least, he should have given the Phillies something to think about. It’s easy to forget sometimes that Franco is still only 26 years old. He is 240 days younger than Herrera and roughly a year and a half older than Kingery.

Kapler offered some insight into how the Phillies feel about Herrera as he prepares for the start of his fifth big-league season and it sure sounds as if they still believe in him even after his worst season last year. Kapler and the Phillies have expressed to Herrera that he needs to come into spring training this year in far better shape than he was a year ago. But he also referred to him as one of the best players in baseball for a six-week stretch at the start of last season.

“How do we get that outcome for the entirety of the season?” Kapler asked.

It sure sounded as if he wanted to try to find out.

Like Kingery, Herrera is playing under a multiyear contract that was given to him by the current regime and that makes it more likely that the Phillies believe in his ability. Read between the lines of what has been said and done over the last year and it sure seems as if the Phillies would like to sign Machado over Harper because of how they think it would impact the overall ballclub.

I, on the other hand, still think Bryce Harper would have a greater impact.

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