January 15, 2019
Well, Phillies fans, it's time to play a classic round of good news/bad news, and since you can't actually tell me which one you want to hear first, let's start with the good news.
According to Matt Gelb (and Jayson Stark and Ken Rosenthal) of The Athletic, the Phillies have "gained confidence they will land one of the available superstars," Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, before the start of 2019 spring training. Of course, at various times the Phillies have reportedly been the favorite to land both players, and a report as recently as Sunday suggests they've shifted their focus from Machado to Harper, with whom the Phillies met over the weekend.
That's the good news.
The bad news? That very same Athletic story suggests a deal might not happen until February — and when it does, the Phillies have made it known that they will not be signing both players.
It might be Harper. It might be Manny Machado. It just might not happen until February.
There is risk in dragging out this dance, but multiple league sources indicated the Phillies’ risk of losing out on both stars is mitigated by the apparent lack of interested teams throughout Major League Baseball and the club’s financial wherewithal. ... A marriage with Harper or Machado is not guaranteed. But, across the game, there is increasing skepticism about how this can unfold without the Phillies somehow involved...
It’s a choice they do not yet have to make. The Phillies are believed to prefer Machado over Harper because he is an elite hitter and defender, but conflicting information has spread from team to team and agent to agent. That, of course, is by design. The Phillies do not benefit from broadcasting their preference. League sources insisted the Phillies have made this much clear during negotiations: They will not sign both players. [theathletic.com]
There are, as always, two ways to take bad news, and I'm going to take the glass-half-full approach here.
Of course, it makes total sense that they would be telling others that they won't sign both. By doing that, they're playing both free agents off one another and increasing the pressure to sign with the Phillies, assuming they're putting forth the best offer. With so few teams still reportedly left in the market for these two, at least at the high price tags they're demanding, the Phillies are using one of their biggest pieces of leverage: that stupid money we've all heard so much about.
Are the Phillies bluffing? Would they really be unwilling to sign both if they had the chance? And can't we just be happy with one or the other?
We'll have to wait and see, possibly for a while...
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