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Phillies head to GM meetings with an eye on Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and others

In addition to pursuing the two marquee free agents, Phillies GM Matt Klentak is monitoring the trade market for several players, including Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto and Royals utilityman Whit Merrifield.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak will bring a lengthy to-do list to the annual GM meetings, which open this evening in Carlsbad, Calif.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak will bring a lengthy to-do list to the annual GM meetings, which open this evening in Carlsbad, Calif.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Like everything about baseball, the offseason moves slowly.

On Saturday, more than 170 free agents became eligible to negotiate with any team they desire. But unlike the NFL and NBA, in which players typically sign within a few days, baseball free agency unfolds over weeks and even months. Last year, several big names were still unsigned when spring training began (see: Arrieta, Jake).

The first significant event of the offseason will occur this week when the general managers' meetings convene at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. Deals have been made at this event before. In 2007, the Phillies worked out a trade with the Houston Astros for closer Brad Lidge. Usually, though, the GM meetings represent an opportunity for teams to lay the groundwork for trades and signings that don't come to fruition until at least the winter meetings in December.

Here, then, are a few things to watch as Phillies GM Matt Klentak mingles with his counterparts over the next few days.

How much money do the Phillies have to spend?

For months, many rival executives have assumed the Phillies will sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. There has even been speculation that the Phillies could sign both megastars.

"Someone just didn't put a paper and pencil together and do the math," team president Andy MacPhail said last month, essentially laughing off those suggestions.

OK, then. Let's do the math.

The Phillies have $69 million committed to six players for 2019: Arrieta ($25 million), Carlos Santana ($20.3 million), Tommy Hunter ($9 million), Pat Neshek ($7.75 million), Odubel Herrera ($5.35 million), and Scott Kingery ($1.5 million). Including ace Aaron Nola, they have 11 arbitration-eligible players who could make a combined $40 million, according to arbitration projections at MLB Trade Rumors. The rest of the roster, including Rhys Hoskins, is not yet eligible for arbitration and can expect to make between $500,000 and $800,000 apiece.

If the Phillies keep all those players — and they almost certainly won't — the payroll would be approximately $115 million. MacPhail said he expects that the Phillies will eventually hike the payroll back to their pre-rebuilding levels, which topped out at $178 million in 2014. If they spend, say, $160 million on players in 2019, they would have $45 million to play with this winter.

And in all likelihood, they will have considerably more than that.

Will the Phillies be scared off by Machado's postseason antics?

It's not so much that Machado was accused of intentionally spiking Milwaukee first baseman Jesus Aguilar in the NL Championship Series and Boston first baseman Steve Pearce in the World Series. It's that, after not running hard out of the batter's box, he responded to critics by declaring, "I'm not Johnny Hustle."

Many suitors, including the Phillies, surely noticed.

"I think once Manny gets his money," one National League scout said, "he's going to coast more than [Harper] is."

Maybe so, but Machado also has won two Gold Gloves and is one of 16 players ever to compile at least 175 homers and 30 Wins Above Replacement by age 26. In other words, he's a generational talent for whom many teams will overlook any potential concerns about his makeup.

At midseason, the Phillies made the second-best bid to acquire Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. It's difficult to imagine that their opinion of him has changed enough that they won't make an aggressive move for him now. Besides, MacPhail, Klentak, and assistant general manager Ned Rice worked previously for the Orioles and have a history with Machado. They should be able to do enough homework on him.

"One thing about Manny, and it goes back to double-A Bowie, he plays to win," said Gary Kendall, one of Machado's minor-league managers. "Winning is the most important thing to Manny. I'm not surprised by what happened [on the plays at first base]. That's just the way he plays. He plays to win. He plays to stay in innings and keep things going, and I just think he's an intense player. I don't think it's anything intentional. He's not a dirty player."

Other than Harper and Machado, which players will be on the Phillies' radar?

Pop quiz: Who led the majors in hits this year?

Bet you didn't guess Whit Merrifield.

Merrifield, 29, had a breakthrough season with the Kansas City Royals, batting .304 with 192 hits, 43 doubles, 12 homers, an .806 OPS and 45 stolen bases, most in the majors. He also played five positions, demonstrating the versatility that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler loves.

The Royals would like to sign Merrifield to a contract extension. If they're unable to do so, they could trade him, and the Phillies have expressed interest in the past.

Another name to watch: Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. If, as his agent told MLB Network Radio last week, the 27-year-old all-star would really prefer to be traded than sign an extension, many teams will be interested. The Phillies are bullish on young catcher Jorge Alfaro, but Realmuto would represent a clear upgrade.

If the Phillies whiff on both Harper and Machado, they could move to the next tier of free agents and target oft-injured center fielder A.J. Pollock, third baseman Josh Donaldson, or utilityman Marwin Gonzalez to help fill their need for middle-of-the-order hitters in an offense that ranked 18th in the majors in on-base percentage (.314), 21st in runs scored (677), and 23rd in slugging (.393).