We have arrived at Manny Eve, the day before a superstar free-agent infielder visits Philadelphia and finds out what the Phillies have to offer him this holiday season. We know it will not be an easy sell even though the Phillies are most likely willing to pay in excess of $300 million over 10 years in order to convince Manny Machado that he should play his home games next season at Citizens Bank Park.
Machado actually spent Manny Eve in the Big Apple with the New York Yankees, the team that many believe he’d most like to play for next season. The Phillies, of course, cannot compete with the Yankees in many ways. The Phils trail the Yanks, 27-2, in World Series titles, so there’s that to overcome.
Sure, Manny, we’re down a few titles, but we’re expecting to have one hell of a century and we really think you can help.
Star players surely have a lot better chance of making money beyond the game playing near Madison Avenue than they do playing on Pattison Avenue. And, perhaps most importantly, the Yankees won 100 games and reached the postseason a year ago while the Phillies won only 80 and missed the playoffs for a seventh straight year.
The Phillies, in other words, need to make the sales pitch of their life.
“I think we’re positioned to win a lot of games and to be a very good team in 2019,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said when asked what his persuasive words would be to either Machado or Bryce Harper, the other premier free agent who could be making a Philadelphia visit in the near future. “Obviously I’d share what I think is amazing about the city of Philadelphia. How passionate the fan base is.”
Kapler’s primary pitch would be that either player has the opportunity to make the kind of impact that will lead the Phillies to where they want to go.
“How big of an impact each one of them can make in helping us achieve that next level of greatness,” Kapler said. “I personally would be especially motivated by being one of the pieces that could help a club reach that next level, so I might lean on something like that.”
That’s not bad at all. The players who have achieved greatness here will tell you there’s something special about Philadelphia that trumps winning even in New York. Tug McGraw told the city that never sleeps to “stick it” after the Phillies won their first World Series in 1980, and he actually loved New York.
It’s possible that winning means more here because there has been so much losing. Win in New York or Boston or Los Angeles and you take a place next to the other legends. Win in Philadelphia and you become a god. That’s worth selling.
The ultimate sales pitch Thursday, however, must be presented by John Middleton, the managing partner and the man with the money. At the turn of this century, it would have been unfathomable to think that the day would come when the Phillies could match the Yankees dollar for dollar in a free-agent spending tilt. If the Yankees wanted somebody, the Yankees got them.
But the Phillies, with a payroll that is currently in the middle of the pack, an owner dying to spend and a $2.5 billion television deal that is still in its infancy, are able to financially battle any team in baseball, including the Yankees.
Thursday’s meeting with Machado and a subsequent meeting with Harper will be all about what Middleton and his ownership partners (Jim and Pete Buck) want to do financially. Middleton will be armed with the advice of general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail in terms of what they think the two players are worth and he must decide if he wants to spend that much or more to sign the players.
Even then, of course, there’s no guarantee. If Machado really wants to be a Yankee, he could still take less money and buy everything he ever wanted. And if Harper wants to be closer to his home in Las Vegas, there’s nothing Middleton or anyone else can do to geographically move Citizens Bank Park.
Middleton’s pitch has to be that he wants to win next year, the year after that and the year after that, too. He has to let Machado and/or Harper know that if they come now that he’ll do his best to make sure they are joined by Mike Trout as soon as possible.
When the Phillies went to back-to-back World Series in 2008 and 2009, they were mentioned as the New York Yankees of the National League. Three years later, they were the Phillies again, a team that has historically struggled to field a squad with a winning record, let alone championship contenders. It had to make the competitive wrestler and businessman in Middleton mad as hell.
Now, he has another chance to build the Phillies into a National League powerhouse. MacPhail told MLB.com earlier this week that “there are a lot of different ways to improve. It’s very important that you keep an eye on the future. There’s going to be just as much pressure on us next year to improve as there is this year. And the same thing the year after that. So you’ve got to give yourself enough latitude to deal with each offseason as it comes.”