Some random thoughts as Manny Machado and Bryce Harper ponder which team’s boatload of dollars and atmosphere most appeal to them.
Manny Machado and his agent, Dan Lozano, have laid their cards on the table. Even if there is a mystery team — isn’t there always a mystery team? — it is clear that the primary suitors are the Phillies, New York Yankees, and Chicago White Sox.
Of that trio, the Phillies have the greatest need and desire for Machado. The White Sox lost 100 games last year, and signing Machado is not going to push them into the playoffs. I’m sure he’d love to play with his brother-in-law Yonder Alonso, whom Chicago acquired from Cleveland earlier this month. But if you go play for the White Sox, you will forever be playing for the No. 2 team in your own city.
Consider this: The last time the White Sox drew more fans than the Cubs was 1992, the year Machado was born. That’s a streak of 26 seasons, and it is not changing anytime soon. The White Sox could not even outdraw the Cubs the year they won the World Series, in 2005, and they could not outdraw them the following year, either.
The Cubs play in a quaint antique of a ballpark that draws fans from around the world. The White Sox moved into the first of the tsunami of late-20th- and early-21st-century new ballparks in 1991, and it is already outdated. If Machado enjoyed playing in front of empty seats in Baltimore, he’s going to love the South Side of Chicago in the summertime.
The Yankees, of course, have no problem drawing fans in New York and from all over the world. They are the Manchester United of the baseball world. But Machado will never be loved in the Bronx the way he could be in Philadelphia. He will never be Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle.
That was evident from the two disparate scenes that took place outside Yankee Stadium and Citizens Bank Park. Up in New York, Machado’s visit was barely an event. The visit with the Yankees lasted 90 minutes, and a handful of cameramen filmed him as he left the ballpark in a black SUV with darkened windows.
Contrast that with his arrival in Philadelphia, where a South Jersey union worker asked Machado to stop for a photo before advising him that the “Super Bowl champs” play across the street and that he could lead the Phillies to a World Series at Citizens Bank Park. The worker told Machado to “do the right thing and sign” before adding, “Take the money.”
That scene might have frightened Mrs. Machado, but it made for great theater that was severely lacking on Machado’s other two tour stops. The “money” advice was solid. The belief here remains that Phillies managing partner John Middleton is prepared to spend more money than the White Sox or Yankees to get Machado. I also believe that Philly would be the best fit for Machado.
While almost all the attention turned to Machado’s visit in the week leading up to Christmas, it should not be forgotten that the Phillies still need to improve their starting pitching. They were mentioned as a potential trade suitor for Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who would be an even better acquisition than Machado or Bryce Harper.
It is possible, however, that the Phillies are overvaluing what they already have. General manager Matt Klentak said at the winter meetings that starting pitching was the strength of the ballclub last year.
“I know that it faltered at the end,” he said. “I’m not trying to hide behind that. But for most of the season, the starting rotation was the strength of the team. For us to make an acquisition, we have to be very confident that it is moving the needle and that it’s a sound investment.”
Kluber, even at the cost of a top pitching prospect such as Sixto Sanchez, would be a terrific investment for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that he has been among the five best pitchers in baseball over the last six years. He has gone 94-50 with a 2.96 ERA since 2013. Only Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Zack Greinke have lower ERAs over the last six seasons. Only Sale, at 2.89, has a lower ERA among pitchers who have spent all of the last six seasons in the American League.
Equally attractive is that Kluber has a contract that could keep him under team control for the next three seasons. In addition to the $17 million he will make in 2019, there are team options at $17.5 and $18 million the following two years with buyouts of $1 million. That means a team could get him for three years at $52.5 million, just $1.5 million more than the Yankees are expected to pay J.A. Happ over the same time frame. I love Happ, but he’s older and not nearly as good as Kluber.
In the meantime, some more starting pitchers recently came off the free-agent market, with the most notable being veteran righthander Anibal Sanchez, who signed a two-year deal worth $19 million with Washington. Sanchez had a bounce-back season with Atlanta last year and gives the Nats a very nice No. 4 starter. As much as Klentak likes his rotation, it’s difficult to say that the top four of Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez matches up well against Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Sanchez.
A decent option left on the free-agent market for the Phillies is lefty Gio Gonzalez, who would likely come cheaper than lefty Dallas Keuchel and has similar credentials.
Finally, kudos to Rhys Hoskins for doing everything he can to help the Phillies recruit both Machado and Harper. If Hoskins reaches his potential as a power-hitting first baseman with the ability also to hit for a high average as he did in the minor leagues, he is destined to become one of the best leaders in franchise history.
He is also good at pitching the company line.
“We’ve already gotten better as a baseball team,” Hoskins said when asked if he’d be disappointed if the Phillies did not get Machado or Harper. “How are you disappointed with that, if we’ve acquired a couple guys already that make us better as a team? I think ... if spring training started right now and the season started right now, I think we would be a better baseball team now than we were at the end of last season. That’s really all you can ask.”
The additions of shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Andrew McCutchen have made the Phillies better but not nearly good enough to be considered a World Series contender. A superstar and another starting pitcher are needed to reach that status.