It is now just about a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training – and the world waits to find out who Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will be signing with. Yet unlike last season when free agency was so slow collusion was implied – teams are making moves. These moves are also altering the trajectory of Machado and Harper in ways we might not have guessed before the off-season started.
Last year – the first big move was the Yankees trading for Giancarlo Stanton – which effectively guaranteed the Red Sox would sign free agent JD Martinez which they waited to do so until right before Spring Training. This year most notably the teams that last saw Harper and Machado suit up for them have been active. The Nationals signed coveted free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin quickly and appear to be ready to let Juan Soto take over – though they are also haven’t quite given up on bringing back Harper.
The Dodgers salary dumped Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds – instantly adding some intrigue to the Reds and freeing themselves up some outfield depth and salary. Enough to bring in Harper though? It seems Machado’s trial with the team at the end of 2018 only hurt his chances of coming back – even more than the fact that really Corey Seager will be more than ready to resume his All Star starting shortstop role with the team.
Machado on the other hand was long rumored to be headed to the New York Yankees, but now they signed DJ LaMahieu as well as upside only Troy Tulowitzski, so the signing appears at least unlikely in the Age of Hal and Hank(Not George). The Phillies have been billed to be in the hunt for both, and still could easily wind up with one. I am not buying that they will be satisifed with Andrew McCutchen as their big splash of the winter with so MUCH room to pay for players sitting only around $115M so far in payroll commitments. Bringing in Jean Segura from the Phillies might make Machado more unlikely, but they could easily find room for Bryce Harper despite a nice season from Nick Williams.
Richard Justice of MLB.com identifies several teams that could sneak in on the mix, from the Astros to the Giants to the Padres. He says this about mystery teams:
Mystery teams have all the fun. Or sometimes, it seems that way. Lots of attention, zero risk. What a life. Every offseason, one or two of them lurk in the shadows poking around on the edges of free agency.
Just when you think your favorite team is on the verge of signing a great player, a mystery team emerges and sends everyone back to the negotiating room. You may ask yourself if they really exist.
Right now we still expect the Phillies to snatch up one of the two superstars and the other to go somewhere else. Of course one might influence the others, and other reports assert that the rivalry between the two stars agents is also important. Each agent wants the biggest deal ever. Scott Boras is the defending heavyweight champion in that regard – but Machado’s agent Dan Lozano isn’t going to go down without a fight himself.
It is impossible to write any meaningful baseball preview article until these two sign, despite the fact that baseball more than any sport is not affected by one player. The NL Central and East appear incredibly competitive right now with the West the Dodgers to lose, but what if the Rockies come out of nowhere and bring in Bryce Harper? What if the Mets sign Harper somehow with a deferred salary like the one they are still paying Bobby Bonilla until 2035(Unlikely – but if you haven’t read this story before PLEASE read this). New Mets GM Brodie Van Wegenen has been bold and brash already – why not?
Less than 100 days until the season starts – we can only hope these two find landing places soon so Marlins fans can predict just how many games they might lose this season.