It’s silly that the baseball world even needs this reminder, but here goes: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are wonderful players, and any fan base should be happy to call either or both of them their own for the next decade.
There, that wasn’t so hard! Or at least, it shouldn’t be—except nobody seems to really want Harper, a 26-year-old former MVP and six-time All-Star, and nobody seems to really want to pay Machado, a 26-year-old four-time All-Star who might be even more desirable than his fellow free agent.
This is another tectonically slow offseason, and the free-agent freeze starts at the top. Spring training is just five weeks away, and Harper and Machado are still unsigned, with reports suggesting the dual stalemates have no end in sight. That’s a shift from the longtime speculation that they would challenge the record for largest contract, which belongs to Giancarlo Stanton at $325 million guaranteed over 13 years.
At the start of this offseason, MLB Trade Rumors thought Harper would get $420 million over 14 years, Machado $390 million over 13. FanGraphs was a bit more conservative but still predicted $330 million over 10 years for Harper and $279 million over nine for Machado. Jon Heyman and an “expert” he consulted placed both players in the $300-400 million range over 10 or 11 years. The Athletic did the same. Overall, the specifics varied by prognosticator, but the predictions featured a couple of key traits in common: at least $30 million per year in every case, and at least 10 years in every case but one.
Except now it’s unclear whether even the most conservative of those projections will end up reaching fruition. Only three teams—the Phillies, Yankees, and White Sox—have exhibited interested in Machado, who doesn’t yet appear to have an offer that’s reached $300 million or even come close to it. Philadelphia’s negotiations mostly have been shrouded in secrecy. Several December reportsfrom the New York Post suggested the Yankees liked Machado, but not enough to award him $300 million over 10 years; other recent reports claimed the Yankees might not go over $200 million for him or even make an official offer. The White Sox’s offer to Machado is reportedly “closer to $200 million than $300 million,” and that team is apparently resorting to recruiting Machado not by paying him what he wants, but rather by turning the lineup into a family photo.