January 24, 2019
It really seems as though Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will never sign. And sadly, that's by design these days.
Most players seem to blame the teams (and thereby the owners), which have become much less aggressive in their pursuit of free agents in recent years.
The Phillies were centerstage in this last March, when they waited until very close to the start of the regular season to sign Jake Arrietta to a three-year, $75 million deal in 2018. If they ink either of the top tier superstars currently on the market, it may take until March this year too.
Which means manager Gabe Kapler may not know what his roster will look like until after he's spent more than a month training and preparing in Clearwater.
"We are a stronger roster right now," Kapler said Tuesday, citing the signings of Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, as well as trades for Jean Segura and a pair of relievers. "As it relates to the free agents, there are several that would make us better. Matt [Klentak] is looking under every stone to make us better."
While Kapler is focusing on what he has in front of him and the front office is making its moves, the players currently on the team are left wondering how, exactly, the new world order in Major League Baseball will effect them as they are trying to get ready for the regular season.
"It's hard for us, as players," Rhys Hoskins said to reporters earlier this week. "We want the best competition. That’s just rooted in what we want as athletes. We want to compete and compete at the highest level. It's tough to see some of the best athletes in our game aren't sought after as such. I think it's something like 100 free agents remain and we are less than a month from pitchers and catchers reporting. Some of those guys not being on the field is going to hurt the competition and the game."
Several Phillies players, like Nick Williams and Roman Quinn in the outfield, or Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez in the infield, may wind up spending all of March training with Philly before being "replaced" by a Harper or Machado signing respectively.
But economics rule, and players are trying to maximize their value just as teams are trying to strengthen their bottom line. Until the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021, things are how they are.
"Teams owe that to fans," Hoskins said, "to put a good product on the field and we want it as players. We want to compete against the best. I can imagine the stress of being a free agent and not knowing where you’re going to be, especially if you have family. ... It’s a little bit weird and concerning that its changed so drastically and so quickly."
That being said, landing one of the top hitters in baseball would make it all worth it for the Phillies and their fans.
"If we got either one of them, I think it would be good," Aaron Nola said. "We are already a better team than we were last year, with the veteran guys who have been around a lot."
But, if things go according to the Phillies' plans, they might be lightyears better than a year ago by the time Opening Day rolls around.
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