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Inbox: Can Philly become a destination again?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers fans' questions
January 4, 2019

I read that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado don't like the Phillies. I'm freaked out, man! Help me out. -- Tommy J., PhiladelphiaRelax, buddy. I will talk you through this.First, there is a difference between a player telling his agent, "I want no part of Philly, no matter what," and,

I read that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado don't like the Phillies. I'm freaked out, man! Help me out. -- Tommy J., Philadelphia
Relax, buddy. I will talk you through this.
First, there is a difference between a player telling his agent, "I want no part of Philly, no matter what," and, "All things being equal, I'd rather go to City X or City Y before Philly." If Machado or Harper does not want to play in Philly, regardless of contract offers, then, well, the Phillies are in deep trouble. But let's assume it's not that.
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Say three companies want to hire you: one in San Diego, one in Milwaukee and one in Pittsburgh. You would be crazy not to want the job in San Diego. It's 75 and sunny every day. It's on the beach. The fish tacos are amazing. It's awesome. But say the fine folks in Milwaukee blow the San Diego offer out of the water. They offer so much more money, in fact, that it would be stupid to say no. So you start to think a little more about Milwaukee and realize it is a fine city and a fine place to live and work. It's not on the beach, but with the money you make there you can fly every winter and spend a few weeks on Maui. It's not a bad trade-off.
The point is that people have preferences. Machado grew up a Yankees fan, so why wouldn't he prefer them over the Phillies? He would be fulfilling a lifelong dream. Harper has spent his entire career with the Nationals, and the Dodgers seem like the perfect team for the most recognizable player in baseball. (LeBron and Bryce in the same city? Come on.) I wouldn't fault Harper for placing both the Nationals and Dodgers above the Phillies. But if the Phillies make strong enough offers, Machado or Harper might see that Philly is a great place to be, too.

It's funny, though, because not long ago players dreamed about an opportunity to play here. Unfortunately for the Phillies, Machado and Harper don't remember those days. They played their first big league seasons in 2012, so they never got to see the Phillies' five-year run through the National League East, although I'm pretty certain Jayson Werth told Harper how awesome Philly is when things are rolling. (It blows #Natitude out of the water.) They don't remember Roy Halladay sacrificing millions on a contract extension to come to Philly in December '09. They don't remember Cliff Lee taking less money to return to Philly in December '10. Philly was once a baseball destination. It can be again, but the Phillies will have to outspend other teams to get back.
Will the Phillies find a lefty for the rotation? -- Rich H., Kennett Square, Pa.
If the right deal comes along, perhaps. But I do not see the Phillies signing Dallas Keuchel to a five-year contract or sending a boatload of players and prospects to the D-backs for Robbie Ray. The Phillies know they will be criticized if their rotation performs like it did in August and September, but they are confident it will be like the unit that pushed the Phillies to the top of the NL East through early August.
Here is what Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday:
"I think for the rest of the offseason, we're going to continue to explore opportunities to make our team better, and I don't know if our position on adding a starter has really changed," Klentak said. "If we can access a starter for a price that we think makes sense and makes our team better, then we will continue to explore that. We have to be convinced that it is making our team better. Our group of five starters that pitched for us last year, plus [Jerad] Eickhoff and the ton of depth we have at Triple-A, is a pretty high floor for a starting-pitching unit. We would need to move the needle, and if we find a deal that we think accomplishes that, then we'll explore it. But we are not going to force it if it's not there."

In short, I see the Phillies signing Keuchel, but only if his price drops significantly in the short term or if there is another Jacob Arrieta situation (i.e. he lingers on the market into Spring Training). But like I wrote Thursday following the Player Page for David Robertson deal, the Phillies at the moment have turned their focus to Machado and Harper. They want to see what happens with them first before they make a decision on something big. They will need every penny they can get to sign one of them.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.