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Phillies still in the hunt for Manny Machado after Jean Segura trade

Manny Machado has made clear he wants to play shortstop, and the Phillies just traded for a new one ... but the big-time free agent's name is still on the table.

The Phillies GM punted a question on whether or not Manny Machado would play third.
The Phillies GM punted a question on whether or not Manny Machado would play third.Read moreMark J. Terrill / AP

It has happened only once. It was March 12, 2017, a first-round game for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, and Jean Segura and Manny Machado played side-by-side. Segura was the shortstop, Machado the third baseman.

Could the Phillies bring them together again?

It all depends on Machado. But after the Phillies acquired Segura from the Seattle Mariners in a five-player trade that was completed Monday, general manager Matt Klentak made clear that the move doesn’t preclude other additions. That would include Machado, the marquee free agent who has stated his preference for wanting to play shortstop even though the nearly universal opinion of talent evaluators across baseball is that he’s a better third baseman.

"We can continue to explore deals in other areas knowing that we should have some payroll room to address that, if necessary," Klentak said on a conference call. "This was a trade that accomplished several things for us, one of them being that it allows us to stay flexible for the rest of the offseason."

>> READ MORE: Breaking down the top free agents available

It's widely expected that the Phillies will sign either Machado or Bryce Harper, the other generational player available on the free-agent market. Regardless of which superstar they choose, the goal is the same: To improve by at least 10 wins over last season's 80-win total.

Segura, inarguably, helps that cause by virtue of his ability to make contact at the plate. He was the fourth-toughest player to strike out last season with a 10.9 percent whiff rate and a .258 average with two strikes. Over the last three seasons, he has 538 hits, seventh-most in the majors.

But there's another component to this, too. Segura is regarded as an average or slightly better defender, with one National League scout noting that he makes most of the plays he's expected to make despite limited range. The Phillies were the worst defensive team in baseball last season, and according to defensive runs saved, the worst since 2003 when that metric was invented. Segura figures to be an upgrade.

"I don't think you go from the bottom of the pack to the top of the pack in one offseason, but you do have to make every effort to improve wherever you can," Klentak said. "This trade not only adds Segura to solidify the middle infield for us, but it also allows Rhys (Hoskins) to slide to first base and be replaced in essence by an outfielder who's more comfortable in left field."

Machado, particular as a third baseman, would spark even further improvement. He's an elite defender at third base, rated by the NL scout as an 80 on the 20-to-80 evaluation scale. At shortstop, the scout gives Machado a 55 ranking.

Klentak chose to “punt” on a question about whether Machado has expressed a willingness to play third base for the Phillies. It’s believed that his preference is to play shortstop for the New York Yankees, who appear to be more interested in Machado than Harper and have a need now that Didi Gregorius will miss much of next season after Tommy John elbow surgery.

Clearly, though, the Phillies remain in the hunt for either Harper or Machado. Trading for Segura did nothing to change that.