Inbox: Do Phils prefer Harper or Machado?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers fans' questions

December 5th, 2018

Is there a significant difference between the Phillies' interest in Manny Machado over ? I believe Harper would fit better.
-- Pasquale D., Philadelphia

You are not alone, but the Phillies remain interested in Machado. In fact, there are indications Philadelphia prefers him over Harper. Now, Machado is not an iconic player like Harper. He is not as accomplished a hitter as Harper. But he is one of the game's greatest talents and he also plays a premium position. It is why Machado has a career 33.8 WAR, while Harper has a career 27.4 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. If the Phils can convince Machado to play third base -- his best position -- they will have one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball for years.
Oh, Machado could come at a lower price than Harper, too.
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But here is an interesting wrinkle to the equation. The Athletic's Jayson Stark wrote Tuesday that there seems to be movement toward limiting infield shifts. Who knows if that will happen anytime soon, but if it does, doesn't it make Harper even more valuable?
Latest Machado free-agent rumors | Latest Harper free-agent rumors
Harper saw the shift in 51.6 percent of his plate appearances last season, which ranked 18th in baseball among hitters with 500 or more plate appearances, according to Statcast™. Harper hit .288 with a .404 weighted on-base average (wOBA) without the shift, but he hit just .215 with a .351 wOBA against the shift.
The shift is a Harper killer.
From 2015-18, he hit .297 with a .404 wOBA without the shift, but .246 with a .379 wOBA with the shift. Imagine Harper's offensive numbers if baseball limits shifts and no longer allows a second baseman to position himself in shallow right field. Harper's numbers could spike. Of course, the Phillies shouldn't change their level of interest in Harper based on something that might or might not happen, but it is something to consider.
But let's be honest here: the Phils should be happy if they get either Machado or Harper. Both are premium talents and both will help the team win now and in the future.
Will the Phillies go with the catchers they have now?
-- Carl J., Philadelphia

It depends how much the Phillies like . It seems they like him a lot.
But do they like Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto more? Perhaps, but maybe not if it means emptying the farm system to get him. The Mets reportedly have been aggressive in their pursuit of Realmuto, who would make them an even more formidable opponent in 2019. It would be something to see Realmuto go to a division rival.
But the Phils like Alfaro for a few reasons. He hit .262 with 10 home runs, 37 RBIs and a .731 OPS last season, his first full season in the big leagues. Alfaro ranked eighth out of 21 catchers (minimum 350 plate appearances) with a 2.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs. He has the strongest arm among catchers, according to Statcast™. Alfaro ranked fifth among catchers in framing runs (12.3), according to Baseball Prospectus. His expected wOBA improved from the first half (.265 from April-June) to the second half (.326 from July-September), and he is under team control through 2023.

Alfaro does swing and miss too much. He struck out 138 times in 377 plate appearances. His 36.6 percent strikeout rate ranked third among 247 players with a minimum of 350 plate appearances. Alfaro's strikeout rate dropped each month -- March/April (42.4 percent), May (37.5), June (36.4), July (34.3), August (33.9) and September (33.3) -- but even a 33.3 percent strikeout rate is alarmingly high. He also needs to be better at blocking balls; too many got past him last season.
But many teams would like to have a catcher like Alfaro on their 40-man roster, which is why I would not be surprised if the Phillies moved forward with him and . The Phils seem to have more pressing issues than any behind the plate.