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Inbox: Can Phillies nab free-agent superstars?

Fans ask about signing Harper, Machado and possible trade targets
December 19, 2018

In the end, do you think the Phillies will sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Who do you want? -- Tyler C., PhiladelphiaI would not bet my mortgage on either player because I'm not confident the Phillies will sign either one. I still think they could, however, because I just

In the end, do you think the Phillies will sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Who do you want?
-- Tyler C., Philadelphia

I would not bet my mortgage on either player because I'm not confident the Phillies will sign either one. I still think they could, however, because I just don't see enough teams with the same financial flexibility and might as them. There is real debate inside the Phils about how far they should go to sign Harper or Machado. $250 million? $300 million? $350 million? More? Either would be a tremendous upgrade at their respective positions, with Harper in right field and Machado at third base. Harper is a 27.4 WAR player over seven seasons with the Nationals, according to Baseball Reference. Machado is a 33.8 WAR player over that span with the Orioles and Dodgers. Are those numbers impressive? Yes, particularly because both are 26 and likely have not reached their primes. (For comparison's sake, prime Chase Utley posted a 49.3 WAR from 2005-11 and prime Jimmy Rollins posted a 30.9 WAR from 2002-08.) If Philadelphia wants to make at least a 10-win improvement from last season's 80-82 squad, nobody this offseason can make a bigger impact than Harper or Machado.
We are talking about potential Hall of Famers, folks.
But both players carry risk, which is where the Phillies' internal tug-of-war comes from. Harper has had injury issues and his defensive metrics last season were troubling. (Harper's agent Scott Boras insists a healthy Harper will return to his typical defensive standards in 2019.) Machado is a risk because of his "Johnny Hustle" comments and postseason antics. It will drive Philadelphia fans crazy every time he strolls to first base on a ground ball, pop fly or ball smashed off the outfield wall. If the Phils are going to give a player $300 million to become the face of the franchise, wouldn't they feel more comfortable knowing the fan base will love him?
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I'd happily hand Michael Trout $300 million and not think twice about it. He's a 63.8 WAR player over the past seven seasons. He's the best player in baseball and he has no weaknesses. But Harper and Machado at least make me pause a little bit.
Now, if I had to choose one? If I were a Phillies owner, I'm pretty confident that Boras would love me. I think Harper not only is a special player, but he is the rare baseball player that can elevate an entire franchise. He will sell tickets and merchandise. Harper will bring more eyeballs to TV and more ears to radio. He is just fun to watch. That does not mean Harper is going to be better over the next 10 seasons than Machado. In fact, I think there is a strong argument that Machado could be better based on the fact he is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman (assuming he plays third base for the Phils). But if I'm a fan, I'm more likely to come to the ballpark on a random weeknight if I know Harper is in the lineup. He can do special things.
Do the Phils have a fallback plan should they miss out on Harper and Machado?
-- Andrew B., Philadelphia

I think we are looking at it. They acquired outfielder Andrew McCutchen, shortstop Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio, James Pazos and Jose Alvarez. I suspect they will sign at least one more back-end reliever and potentially acquire a starter. It would be a tough sell for the Phillies, but it would give them roster and payroll flexibility for the future.

Why are the Phillies interested in Mike Minor? If they want a left-handed starting pitcher, they should explore a trade for Robbie Ray. Minor will not move the needle at all.
-- Brett L., Broomall, Pa.

The Phillies like Minor because they believe he can be an effective middle-of-the-rotation starter or pitch effectively out of the bullpen. If the Phils traded for Minor, I'm sure they would say he will enter Spring Training competing for a job in the rotation, but if it did not work, he could be a weapon in the bullpen.
Because they don't have a bonafide first-string catcher, why aren't the Phillies showing interest in Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto?
-- Kathy H., Topton, Pa.

The Phillies have talked to the Marlins about Realmuto, but the price remains incredibly high. The Phils really like Jorge Alfaro, too. So while there is no question that Realmuto would move the needle, Philadelphia has greater issues than those at catcher.

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