LAS VEGAS -- Manny Machado is scheduled to visit the Phillies next week in Philadelphia. The organization still wants Machado to be its third baseman.
Sources maintain the Phillies prefer him over Bryce Harper.
Scott Boras is Harper's agent. He stood atop a TV equipment case and spoke to reporters for nearly an hour Wednesday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. He said little about the Phillies' level of interest in his superstar client, but the Phillies met with Boras this week. They had not met with Harper, who lives in town. It is interesting because MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported on Tuesday that Harper had met with "several teams" and "has a few more to go" before the Winter Meetings conclude Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft.
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A "mystery owner" reportedly had flown to Las Vegas to visit Harper in his hometown. It was not Phillies managing partner John Middleton.
It could mean something. It could mean nothing.
"I think when you're talking about Bryce Harper, it's just a different situation," Boras answered, when asked if he got the sense after meeting with the Phillies that they prefer Machado over Harper. "There are a lot of really good ballplayers out there. There really are. They are exceptional. But Bryce's situation has a dynamic about it in terms of what he brings to an ownership and the iconic side of it. It has certainly an appeal because he is really a player that has the ability to economically pay for himself independent of the performance."
Does Harper like Philly?
"Bryce has got great comfort in playing and great numbers there," Boras said. "He knows the division. You know, he respects the organization. So yeah, it's certainly on his list."
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Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said earlier this week that they will not be held hostage by one or two players as they navigate their offseason. He clearly meant Machado and Harper, although he never mentioned either by name.
"I think that in the end, all organizations are going to look back on this opportunity," Boras said, when asked about Klentak's comments. "They're going to look back on it and they're going to say, 'What should I have done? How should I have done it? What steps should I have taken?' These are pivotal moments. There's a lot of organizations and general managers that will be evaluated about what they did do or didn't do when you have the availability of a player like that."
It is clear the Phillies are not waiting for Machado and Harper to make up their minds. The Phillies have added shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and three relief pitchers over the past couple of weeks. They could add another starter, although those chances took a hit with left-hander J.A. Happ expected to agree to a two-year contract with a third-year option with the Yankees. They remain in the hunt for left-handed relievers Zach Britton and Andrew Miller. They still could add another outfielder, even if Harper signs elsewhere.
Boras declined to say if he has talked recently with Middleton, but he said: "I got a chance to spend a good deal of time with John last year when we signed Jacob Arrieta. I really felt he was an owner who had just a strong commitment to his goals and bringing this team to playoff and championship levels."
Middleton told USA Today last month that the Phillies could be a "little bit stupid" in how they spend their money this offseason.
"We just prefer not to be completely stupid," Middleton added.
Klentak echoed that sentiment on Wednesday.
"I don't know what the markets are going to turn out to be for the top free agents," Klentak said. "If it makes sense for this franchise, we'll pursue it. If it doesn't, we have to have a walkaway point, because to not have that is bad business. It all comes down to properly balancing the present and the future, the short term and the long term. Do we want to do everything we can to compete for the playoffs in 2019? Of course we do. Are we going to mortgage our future to do that? Probably not. We have to balance the two."
Does this mean Machado and Harper are headed elsewhere? No. Take everybody's words with a grain of salt these days. One meeting, one phone call, one text message can change everything. The Phillies thought their pursuit of Cliff Lee in December 2010 died several times before it finally happened. There was a point when the Phillies thought they would not be able to extend Roy Halladay in December '09, too. They did.
The cryptic answers. The smokescreens. This is how these things work.
"Until players sign somewhere else, we're going to maintain our engagement with them," Klentak said. "There's no reason to think that we're out."