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January 02, 2019

Live MLB free agency updates: Phillies, rest of baseball world waiting on Machado and Harper to sign

Plus, some thoughts on the potential of signing closer Craig Kimbrel

UPDATE [11:00 a.m.] — The Phillies have secured a meeting with Bryce Harper, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Read more here.


The Phillies are hardly the only team still hoping to make a big free agent splash this winter. But the good news here is that the two biggest free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, have yet to ink their next contracts, meaning there's still a chance the Phillies make good on their promise to get "stupid" with their money during this ultra-important offseason.

Beyond those two, there are several other top free agents, like pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and others. And as ESPN's newest baseball scribe, Jeff Passan, laid out in his first column, it appears the baseball world is waiting for Harper and Machado, who could make a decision "soon," to sign before making moves of their own. 

As for Harper, Passan says that decision might not come down until February.

For those so frothing for action that they're reading whom Machado follows on Instagram like it's scripture, know this: The general consensus has not changed. Machado is going to sign first, and perhaps soon, choosing from among the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox. While one cannot rule out a mystery team -- agent Dan Lozano is keeping a tight lid on the proceedings, just as he did when the Miami Marlins were among the final bidders on Albert Pujols -- Machado's fit among the known interested teams is strong enough not to necessitate a furtive suitor.

Harper has met multiple times with representatives of the Washington Nationals, according to a club source, and the possibility of a return to the place he spent the first seven years of his career persists, despite Nationals owner Mark Lerner's insistence that Washington would not stretch beyond the $300 million offer Harper rejected near season's end. The Phillies and White Sox are the other two teams known to be willing to guarantee Harper the decade-plus-long deal he and Machado, each 26 years old, are seeking. Harper's willingness to wait for a contract he deems suitable is real, according to a source who said he could see Harper's free agency stretching into February.  []

Wait, did he say a decade-plus-long deal?

If the Phillies (or any other team for that matter) is willing to throw $300 or $400 million and 10-plus years at those guys, what are they willing to throw at some of the secondary players on the market? Especially the teams that miss out on Machado or Harper? At that point, there could be a mad scramble of teams who put their eggs in the Harper/Machado basket to sign someone (anyone) before they're left standing out in the cold. 

Or, maybe not...

That is where the cascade effect begins. The secondary and tertiary players see the riches a handful of teams are willing to lavish on Harper and Machado and assume those who miss out on the biggest free agents will pivot to the next-best options. By no means is this airtight logic -- as the game increasingly moves to a stars-and-kids system, in which the middle class of players is squeezed, it might further depress salaries for all but the very best -- but then logic never has been a central element of hope.  []

The Phillies have also been linked to veteran closer Craig Kimbrel this winter. And while Passan thinks that could make sense, he also doesn't seem to believe they're as interested as some have suggested. However, even Kimbrel's landing spot could be determined in large part by where Machado and Harper wind up. 

Craig Kimbrel, who might well be the biggest mystery in free agency not named Harper or Machado. It's a question of not just where Kimbrel will land but also how much he'll get. Clearly the six-year, $100 million-plus deal bandied about is not happening and never was. The benevolence of teams toward one-inning pitchers goes only so far, and that length is not six years, perhaps not even five years -- and might again depend on the two big hitters.

Because as great as Kimbrel has been, it's not the White Sox's style to spend big on the bullpen, nor the Angels'. The Twins are seeking one-year deals on back-end-bullpen types, according to sources, and the Rays won't even consider Kimbrel at four years. Atlanta is planning to stick with its plethora of young arms and pursue upgrades at the trade deadline if necessary. That leaves the Phillies, and while they sought Edwin Diaz before he went to the Mets and kept in touch with Britton, any connection with the Phillies has been more the sentiment of competing officials.  []

That, however, doesn't mean the Phillies are totally out on Kimbrel, especially if they miss out on both of the top hitters.

Still, it could make sense. The Phillies aren't going to be hamstrung by the draft pick attached to Kimbrel. They are in clear win-now mode. So long as the Red Sox are sitting back on Kimbrel and waiting it out, as they've done thus far and show no signs of abandoning, there is room for Philadelphia...  []

In the meantime, the waiting game continues. As always, we'll keep you up to date with the latest free agency news and trade rumors surrounding the Phillies.

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