Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

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Report: Phillies will not sign both Harper and Machado

Tim Kelly
January 15, 2019 - 3:28 pm
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The longer Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain on the free-agent market, and the more major market teams go in other directions, the more Philadelphia Phillies fans begin to wonder if it’s realistic for the club to sign both 26-year-old superstars.

But even in the midst of an offseason that was more or less started by managing partner John Middleton talking about “stupid money,” the Phillies apparently don’t plan to sign both Harper and Machado, per Matt Gelb of The Athletic:

League sources insisted the Phillies have made this much clear during negotiations: They will not sign both players.

For what it's worth, 94WIP's Howard Eskin disputes this report, saying he hears if the Phillies can sign both they will. 

With under $100 million in financial commitments for 2019, the Phillies could afford to sign both Harper and Machado to deals that pay them both $30 million plus annually. So what would stop them from doing so?

One theory is that the Phillies would like to leave themselves flexible enough to pursue another superstar in the coming offseasons. If the Phillies sign Harper, his current teammate Anthony Rendon and Colorado Rockies Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado could be free-agents next offseason. The Boston Red Sox likely won’t be able to keep all of the quartet of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Chris Sale, all of whom can become free-agents within the next two seasons. And yes, Mike Trout can become a free-agent after the 2020 offseason and theoretically could be made available on the trade market sooner.

A second theory is that general manager Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail have worked to remind Middleton that this isn’t the NBA. Having Harper and Machado together certainly would be an experience, but is committing $60-$75 million annually on just two players the best path to winning a World Series? Remember, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins and Seranthony Dominguez figure to get significantly more expensive in the coming years. The Phillies are extremely high on the type of pitcher Nick Pivetta could develop into, a reminder that you want to leave some money for possible internal breakout stars. And though they showed serious interest in Edwin Diaz before he was traded to the New York Mets - and they ultimately signed David Robertson - it’s fair to wonder if the Phillies employ a World Series caliber closer yet, assuming Dominguez won’t strictly be used in the ninth.

Related: Todd Zolecki talks about Phillies' interest in Harper, Machado​

The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two theories.

Yes, you always want to have financial flexibility when a chance to make a franchise-altering transaction presents itself. Ask Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs if they wish they could have the eight-year/$184 million they signed Jason Heyward to prior to the 2016 season back. If they could, there’s a very real chance they would be the No. 1 suitor for Harper. Instead, they are largely financially hamstrung this offseason, despite being one of the deepest-pocketed teams in the sport.

At the same time, though, an active MLB roster has 25 players on it. Manager Gabe Kapler stressed the importance of having 35 players in an organization that can contribute to the major league team last year, something he quite literally backed up with his managing in September. If you allocate $60-$75 million annually to two players, it doesn’t leave you much wiggle-room to tweak the rest of the roster, even in a sport without a hard salary cap.

Of course, things are fluid in the offseason. The Phillies may feel right now that they’re pretty unlikely to sign both Harper and Machado, who have a combined 10 All-Star Game appearances. If the Phillies sign Machado in the coming weeks to an eight-year deal and another team doesn’t jump in and take Harper off the board, the Phillies may view the chance to sign him as too sweet to pass up.

In any event, there’s less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. It feels increasingly likely we’ll be discussing these two until Clearwater, or even during Spring Training.