CARLSBAD, Calif. -- After months (if not years) of speculation, the baseball industry this week will begin answering a momentous two-part question.
Which teams will seriously pursue free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado?
As MLB's General Managers Meetings officially commence here Tuesday, trade conversations among the group will create a foundation for the overall market of player movement. Separately, multiple GMs surely have been in contact with Scott Boras, who represents Harper, and Dan Lozano, the agent for Machado, since the free-agent period began Saturday.
Here's an overview of the categories in which teams are expected to fall during the coming days.
Teams likely interested in both
For years, the Phillies have looked upon this offseason as an opportunity to add a franchise hitter. In fact, they have the payroll capacity to add two, if the market breaks in their favor.
The Phils made the second-best trade offer to the Orioles for Machado in July, and their key front-office officials -- president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak -- have known Machado since the earliest days of his pro baseball career.
Harper has enjoyed playing in Philadelphia during road trips to the city, and it shows in his production: His career .930 OPS at Citizens Bank Park is his best at any stadium in which he has played more than 20 games.
After the Phillies, the White Sox are perhaps the best candidate to pursue both Machado and Harper -- although there's no guarantee they will land either. At present, the White Sox have the second-lowest payroll commitment of any MLB team for 2019. With Jose Abreu entering his final season before free agency, the White Sox need a new face of the franchise. Chicago's affinity for Machado is well-established, as it pursued him via the trade market last offseason.
The Braves, meanwhile, are taking an opportunistic approach to the free-agent market, given the youth and quality of their current position players. Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos expressed his aversion to long-term contracts in a recent interview with MLB Network Radio, in keeping with the approach he took as the Blue Jays' GM. But if the market for either Harper or Machado is not as robust as expected, the Braves could be a fallback option.
Teams likely interested in Machado alone
The Yankees were viewed as the third-most serious suitor for Machado in July -- after the Dodgers and Phils -- so it's logical that they could be involved again, despite concerns over Machado's attitude that became prominent during the postseason. In one sense, the Yanks' need for Machado is even greater than it was during the season, because of Didi Gregorius' uncertain status in 2019 following Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.
• The latest Machado free-agent rumors
The Mets have yet to develop a concrete offseason plan, following the hiring of new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, but the signing of Machado is a remote possibility. The Mets received little production from the left side of their infield in 2018, and the end of David Wright's playing career gives the team clarity -- and insurance payments -- to aid in their strategy.
Teams likely interested in Harper alone
The Nationals are the only Major League organization Harper knows and are expected to remain in contact with Boras. Nats ownership certainly has interest in retaining Harper, but the team's urgency to make a massive offer is tempered somewhat by the possibility of utilizing an outfield of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton in 2019.
The Dodgers like Harper enough to have claimed him on trade waivers in August, although that would have been a two-month commitment -- quite different from the 10-year contract Boras may request now. Under the executive team of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, the Dodgers haven't signed a free-agent position player to a contract greater than the $64 million over four years they awarded to Justin Turner.
• The latest Harper free-agent rumors
The Giants long have been viewed as a suitor for Harper, who would provide much-needed firepower for an offense that scored the second-fewest runs in the Majors this year. San Francisco has some freedom to spend, since it avoided paying luxury tax on their 2018 payroll, but it remains to be seen if ownership will ask a new general manager to sign Harper to a decade-long deal as his or her first major move in the job.
As Derrick Goold wrote recently in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals still have the resources to add a superstar hitter. They nearly did so last offseason, before Giancarlo Stanton rejected a trade to St. Louis. Still, it's difficult to envision Harper there without the Cards also trading outfielder William Fowler, who is owed $49.5 million over the next three seasons.
Teams possibly lurking on one -- or both
Two surprise suitors for Harper and/or Machado reside in the American League West. The Rangers would love to add a superstar before opening Globe Life Field in 2020, and now they know that Dallas-area native Clayton Kershaw isn't an option. The Angels, meanwhile, are desperate to win before Michael Trout becomes a free agent after the '20 season.
The Marlins are perhaps the ultimate long shot, given that their rebuild remains only in its initial stages. However, Machado is a unique case given that he's from Miami and starred at Brito Miami Private School. If Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter want a South Florida native around to market the team, Machado's availability could be their best chance.
The Cubs were linked to Machado early in the midsummer trade market, but the talks never gained momentum. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, it's unclear if the Cubs will pursue Machado this offseason. In general, the Cubs seem more enamored with players becoming available via free agency in future offseasons -- such as Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado -- than those in the current class. However, it's noteworthy that Harper would welcome the opportunity to play with childhood friend Kristopher Bryant -- and reportedly has a dog named Wrigley.