The similarities between the Phillies offseason and the Sixers’ are hard to deny. Where Brett Brown spoke of “star hunting,” owner John Middleton boasted of spending “stupid money.”
Both of those statements confirmed what was already assumed by most fans and pundits, but the harm of explicitly saying those things is that it destroys your leverage.
Although Brown’s comments merely built up expectations which led to disappointment, it’s not fair to say that it was a factor in our inability to land a star. LeBron and PG were always longshots, and we didn’t have a DeRozan to offer for Kawhi.
But as it relates to the Phillies, Middleton’s open statement about spending recklessly appears to have had a tangible impact on their negotiations with prospective free agents. Specifically in relation to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Both players’ camps have been emboldened to play the long game in terms of showing interest in the Phillies—why wouldn’t they? The Phillies have the deepest pockets in baseball and a fan base that has chalked up one of the two stars signing here since late October.
The most recent piece of offseason propaganda comes from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Who has reported that neither player is particularly high on the Phillies, and both would have preferred the Yankees (though we know New York has had little interest in Harper).
While there are a fair amount of fans taking that at face value, little attention should be paid to such rumors. For a slew of reasons.
First off consider the source: Sherman. A devout New Yorker who, despite being plugged in to the MLB, doesn’t offer a source on this particular rumor. Which isn’t necessarily damning, because if there’s “chatter” about neither player liking Philly then he would know, and it would likely have some truth to it.
But earlier in the offseason, similar “chatter” said the Phillies were runaway favorites for both players. If that hasn’t withstood the test of time, why should we expect these rumors to?
It’s hard not to characterize the ebb and flow of Harper/Machado rumors as a media tug-of-war between their respective agents and the men who can make their clients some of the richest athletes in American sports—John Middleton and Matt Klentak.
Truth be told, everything you hear in the offseason should be taken with a grain of salt; particularly in the MLB, and especially when Scott Boras is involved. Boras is the most infamous agent in sports, and Machado’s agent—Dan Lozano—negotiated Albert Pujols’ record-breaking contract in 2011.
In situations like this it’s best to stick to the facts.
Which leads me to the variable that, more often than not, has the last laugh—money.
The Yankees aren’t going to break the bank for Machado, and neither the Dodgers nor the Cubs can/will offer stupid money for Harper. It can’t be emphasized enough: the Phillies have all the money in the world and no reason not to spend it.
It won’t matter to Middleton or Klentak if Machado or Harper don’t “prefer” the Phillies, that won’t keep them from offering a substantially richer contract than whatever it is they’re competing against. All you heard last offseason was that Jake Arietta didn’t like the Phillies situation, but as it turns out, money talks.
The one area where teams like the Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers can try to ‘woo’ someone is with their obvious ability to compete for championships. So if there’s reason to believe that neither Harper nor Machado are “enamored” with Philadelphia, this is the reason.
But the Phillies aren’t far off from competing, and both players are aware of that. If mid-January comes around and the team has added another starting pitcher (maybe Kuechel) and a reliever (say Andrew Miller, for example) then that tune will start to change. Perhaps these rumors are a sign to Klentak that Harper/Machado need to see a little “stupid money” thrown around before they sign on the dotted line.
We know that both players love the city and atmosphere of Citizen’s Bank Park, they’ve expressed as much in their public statements.
If one of Machado or Harper does decide to sign with the Phillies, it puts them square in the World Series conversation; removing the only way for New York, LA, or Chicago to appeal to either of the game’s biggest stars in a way that Philly can’t.
See where I’m going with this?
Just as fast as the narrative shifted from one of if not both players signing with the team, to neither player signing with the team, the narrative can swing right back to both players dawning red pinstripes in 2019 and beyond.
Until something else happens, I’ll continue to follow the most logical assumption—that one of if not both players will decide to follow the money and spotlight, both of which lead to Philadelphia.