In this era of tanking and belt-tightening, a team like the Philadelphia Phillies stands out this offseason for two qualities: They are actually trying to win in 2019 and are actually willing to spend to compete.
This combination, once commonplace but now increasingly rare as teams grow wary of albatross contracts and the competitive balance tax, positions the Phillies as a centrifugal force at the winter meetings. The conventional wisdom of the agents and executives huddled in suites and cluttering the casino floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is that Philadelphia will probably net one of the two prizes on the free-agent market, outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado.
The pursuit of Harper and Machado forms the overarching storyline of these meetings as each player aims to exceed the $325-million deal of Giancarlo Stanton for the richest contract in baseball history. Kept out of the playoffs for seven years in a row, itching to restock Citizens Bank Park with fans, the Phillies loom as a team willing to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We’re going into this expecting to spend money,” Phillies owner John Middleton told USA Today last month. “And maybe even be a little stupid about it.”
Rationality ruled the day last offseason when Eric Hosmer led all free agents with a $144-million deal. Harper and Machado could each get twice as much, if not more.
The market for each player remains hazy: New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman indicated Monday he has stayed engaged with Machado’s agent Dan Lozano, but downplayed any discussions with Harper. The Dodgers do not appear interested in a reunion with Machado, but may be willing to get creative to lure Harper to Los Angeles. The Chicago White Sox want to spend, but reside far from contention.
The rest of the prominent clubs appear to reside on the sidelines. The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros lack the need for either player. The St. Louis Cardinals lack interest in Harper’s price tag. The San Francisco Giants are beginning a lengthy rebuild. The Chicago Cubs are wary of over-extending themselves, especially after watching Jason Heyward underperform in the first three years of an eight-year, $184-million deal.