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Bryce Harper and Manny Machado not the only enticing free agents | Bob Brookover

This free-agent market that so many teams have been waiting for offers a lot more than Harper and Machado.

Houston's Marwin Gonzalez, shown here as the Phillies Cesar Hernandez slides into second base, is an intriguing free-agent option.
Houston's Marwin Gonzalez, shown here as the Phillies Cesar Hernandez slides into second base, is an intriguing free-agent option.Read moreYONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

If the waiting is the hardest part, then Major League Baseball free agency is the most excruciating exercise in professional sports.

The market opened Nov. 3, which means superstars such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have had almost four weeks to make up their minds about which team they'd like to make them filthy rich. The answer is not likely to come at least until the start of the winter meetings a week from Monday in Las Vegas.

That scenario is so much different from the three other major sports. We knew, for instance, that LeBron James was going to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kevin Durant would be remaining with the Golden State Warriors before the NBA free-agent market officially opened. It was the same story with Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, Allen Robinson, and Richard Sherman in the NFL.

The waiting is especially brutal when your team is the Las Vegas favorite to land one of the two top prizes on the open market and has already hosted a tour of Citizens Bank Park with Patrick Corbin, the best starting pitcher available. But wait we must.

So far, the biggest name to sign has been infielder Josh Donaldson, who took a one-year deal from the Atlanta Braves for $23 million. It was a nice move by the Braves, who are disinterested in negotiating the types of long-term megadeals that Harper, Machado, and Corbin figure to sign. Donaldson has been a superstar, but he is also a super risk given his recent injury history.

The Phillies, we know, want a superstar who has not reached his prime. They want Harper or Machado, and if they do not get one or the other, the offseason is going to be considered a failure by a fan base that has waited far too long for good baseball to return. It would, given the hype, be a major disappointment at the very least.

Failure, however, could be too strong of a word because this free-agent market that so many teams have been waiting for offers a lot more than Harper and Machado. A lot of teams are not going to get either one and could still become considerably better in 2019. The Phillies could be one of those teams. They could even miss out on Corbin and still do enough to become a contending wild-card team, but that would be disappointing, too.

The Phillies are not nearly as needy as portrayed by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal in a recent column. He did not mention that the Phillies roster is filled with young players and young players often can get better. Could that happen with Scott Kingery? Rhys Hoskins? Jorge Alfaro? J.P. Crawford? Nick Williams? Nick Pivetta? Zach Eflin? Seranthony Dominguez? The answer is obviously yes.

I'd argue that with the additions of Harper/Machado and Corbin, the Phillies would immediately vault ahead of the Braves as the favorite to win the National League East and that could not happen unless there was already a decent amount of talent at the big-league level. There are also other players in this market who could make the Phillies an immediate World Series contender, and not enough attention has been paid to them.

Corbin appears to be the best lefty on the market, but it's possible that J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez will be better over the next three to five years. Would getting two of them be better than simply signing Corbin? They will all come cheaper than Corbin, and they are all intriguing options for the Phillies.

The list of available bullpen arms is even more appetizing. Boston's Craig Kimbrel is likely to land the biggest deal, but if the Phillies could add Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller or Jeurys Familia, they would be in the conversation of the best bullpens in the game.

Houston's Marwin Gonzalez might be the most interesting player in this free-agent class from the Phillies' perspective. He played eight positions for the Astros last season, and that's just the kind of guy Phillies manager Gabe Kapler would love to have on his roster, especially if the Phillies are unable to get Harper or Machado. Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley would also be a decent consolation prize if the Phillies fail to land Harper.

Given all the hype and the reported restlessness of team owner John Middleton, it seems likely that the Phillies will eventually sign Harper or Machado. But if that’s not where this long wait leads, this free-agent market still offers other ways for the team to get better.