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Cases for, against Phils signing Harper, Machado

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Is everybody else ready for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to sign with somebody? The Phillies are right there with you.

Two of the game's greatest players continue to chase record-busting contracts with Spring Training a little more than a month away. The Phillies will meet on Saturday with Harper and his agent Scott Boras in Las Vegas. The group will include at least managing partner John Middleton, president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler. The Phils could make Harper an official offer then. Philadelphia met late last month with Machado and his agent Dan Lozano at Citizens Bank Park and made Machado an initial offer, and NBC Philly reported recently that the team will make a follow-up offer this week.

PHILADELPHIA -- Is everybody else ready for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to sign with somebody? The Phillies are right there with you.

Two of the game's greatest players continue to chase record-busting contracts with Spring Training a little more than a month away. The Phillies will meet on Saturday with Harper and his agent Scott Boras in Las Vegas. The group will include at least managing partner John Middleton, president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler. The Phils could make Harper an official offer then. Philadelphia met late last month with Machado and his agent Dan Lozano at Citizens Bank Park and made Machado an initial offer, and NBC Philly reported recently that the team will make a follow-up offer this week.

Almost everybody in baseball still believes the Phillies will sign one of the two superstars. Internally, the team remains optimistic of landing at least one, as well, even though there are reports that neither player prefers Philly. (For what it's worth, two people told MLB.com last year that Harper likes Philadelphia.)

• Phils poised to make their pitch to Harper

Video: Nats, Phils heating up on Harper and Machado

The Phils feel good because they have more financial muscle and flexibility than any remaining suitors. If they want to outspend everybody, they can.

There are risks to committing a potential $300 million-plus contract to one player, but there are considerable payoffs, too. Consider for a moment that Harper has a 30.7 WAR and Machado has a 30.2 WAR through their age-25 seasons, according to FanGraphs.

Forty-three players since World War II generated between 20-40 WAR through their age-25 seasons, with more than 10 years passed since then. (The 10-year qualifier is here because Harper and Machado could sign 10-year deals.)

Nineteen are in the Hall of Fame (20, if one includes Joe Torre). Five more could be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., in the next 10 years (Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Scott Rolen and Adrian Beltre), and strong arguments can be made that others like Dick Allen, Ted Simmons and Bobby Grich should also be there.

Nearly two-thirds of the 43 have serious Hall of Fame credentials. That is pretty remarkable. The only two players in that group that should give Middleton and Co. nightmares are Jim Ray Hart and Grady Sizemore. Hart registered just 4.0 WAR during the rest of his career after his age-25 season and Sizemore just 1.4. But what are the odds that Harper or Machado turn out like them?

If Harper and Machado continue to play like superstars for the next decade, they should be in the Hall of Fame. And if either spends the next decade in Philadelphia, they could be the first player to have a Phillies "P" on their Hall of Fame plaque since Jim Bunning in 1996.

Here is a look at why the Phils should and should not sign Harper and Machado.

Sign Harper
Harper is arguably the most recognizable player in baseball and the No. 1 choice for Phillies fans. He will sell tickets and merchandise, he will bring more eyeballs to TV and more ears to radio. He brings value on and off the field to a franchise, which Boras will hammer home probably 400 million times to Middleton on Saturday.

Video: Harper to meet with Phillies' front office in Vegas

But Harper is much more than a guy with a high Q rating. He is 26, so he might not have hit his prime on the field yet.

MLB.com's Andrew Simon on Wednesday used sabermetrician Brian Cartwright's Oliver system to project Harper's next seven seasons. Oliver projections can be conservative, so MLB.com's Tom Tango also assembled optimistic (90th percentile) and pessimistic (10th percentile) projections.

The optimistic projection has Harper with a 36.3 WAR over the next seven seasons, which means he produces like Andrew McCutchen from 2012-18 (one National League Most Valuable Player Award, top five in NL MVP voting three other times, four All-Star appearances and four Silver Slugger Awards). Some analysts have pegged a rough value of $8 million-plus per win when calculating WAR, so that production theoretically would be worth roughly $300 million on the open market.

The middle-of-the-road Oliver projection has Harper with a 24.7 WAR over the next seven seasons, which is worth roughly $207 million. The comparison here is Justin Upton from 2012-18.

Video: Duquette analyzes if Phillies are a fit for Harper

If Harper hits that middle-of-the-road projection or better, he will be a good buy, assuming his health and defense hold up.

More on that later.

Sign Machado
Machado is the Phillies' No. 1 choice because he not only can hit, but he is also a Gold Glove Award-caliber third baseman. Machado is 26, like Harper, which means he also might not have hit his prime.

Simon looked at three different projections for Machado with the assumption that he plays an average shortstop. Of course, the Phils expect Machado to play elite-level third base, which means the club's projections could be higher.

Video: Klentak on Machado's visit to Philadelphia

The optimistic projection has Machado with a 33.0 WAR over the next seven seasons, which is worth roughly $276 million. The comparison here is Robinson Cano from 2012-18, when he finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting four times, made five All-Star teams and won two Silver Slugger Awards.

The Oliver projection has Machado with a 22.5 WAR, which is worth roughly $188 million. The comparison is Evan Longoria from 2012-18. But if Machado plays the next seven seasons at third base at his customary level, his projected WAR jumps to 28, which is worth roughly $235 million.

Machado at third base is more than three WAR better than Harper's Oliver projection, which probably is why the Phillies prefer him.

Machado is also incredibly durable. No one has more plate appearances over the past four seasons than him. If you want a superstar that plays nearly every day, Machado is the guy. Plus, he is coming off arguably his best season. Machado posted career bests in on-base percentage (.367), slugging percentage (.538), strikeout rate (14.7 percent), walk rate (9.9 percent), home runs (37), Weighted On-base Average (.377), Weighted Runs Created Plus (141), hard-hit rate (48.2 percent) and average exit velocity (91.6 mph).

The only question is if he will fit in Philly, particularly following the "Johnny Hustle" stuff?

Video: Zolecki on Phillies' talks with Harper, Machado

Pass on Harper
The biggest concerns about Harper are his health and poor defensive metrics. Harper has endured injuries throughout his career, which should not be discounted. What if he breaks down in his early 30s?

But Harper's defense in 2018 also ranked among the worst in baseball. Boras said Harper needed more time to bounce back from a hyperextended knee late in 2017. MLB.com's Mike Petriello dug into Harper's defensive struggles and found there is no reason he cannot bounce back with more aggressive play.

If Harper remains a defensive liability, though, his value plummets. The pessimistic projection for Harper is a 13.1 WAR over the next seven seasons, which is worth roughly $110 million. The comparison here is Hunter Pence from 2012-18.

Pass on Machado
The pessimistic projection for Machado is a 12.0 WAR, which is worth roughly $100 million. The comparison here is Hanley Ramirez from 2012-18.

But perhaps the only real drawback to Machado is the "Johnny Hustle" stuff. Phillies fans will boo Machado whenever he jogs to first base on a routine ground ball or pop fly, particularly because he shined a light on it. Machado has done other controversial things on the field in the past, but let's be honest, fans only get upset about that stuff when it is not their player. If Machado does something foolish on the field while wearing red pinstripes, Phils fans won't mind nearly as much.

The real question is can Machado handle the boos from his hometown crowd? And do the Phillies want to deal with it? He will be the face of the franchise. If you're going to give somebody $300 million, you at least want to know the fans will love him.

Video: What mystery teams may be pursuing Machado?

In the end
The positives outweigh the negatives for both. We are talking about potential Hall of Famers here, talents the Phillies do not seem to have coming through the system anytime soon. The Phils have positioned themselves well for the moment. They can sign Harper or Machado and still have the means to add more talent, or maybe extend somebody like Aaron Nola.

Middleton famously told former first baseman Ryan Howard that he wants his (bleeping) trophy back following the 2009 World Series. Having Harper or Machado in the Phils' lineup for the next several seasons would be a good step in that direction.

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

Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado