It would be quite a shock if either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper – the top two free agents on the market this offseason and two players the Phillies have been linked to for months – sign on the dotted line with Philadelphia by the end of business Thursday. But the good news for the Phillies is Machado/Harper won’t have signed with anybody. They’ll still be free agents. There still will be a chance – not many really know how good those chances are – that Machado or Harper jerseys will start being stocked at the team’s Majestic Clubhouse Store.
Machado, who appears to be favored by the Phillies when it comes to the two superstars, is expected to visit to Citizens Bank Park on his free-agent tour, but that won’t happen until later this month, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Breen. He reports it could happen as early as next week, so it doesn’t make sense for a final decision to come prior to that trip.
While the Phillies met with Scott Boras, Bryce Harper’s agent, on Tuesday, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury, it’s unclear when, or where, Harper will sign. Boras talked at length Wednesday about a range of topics, including Harper and the Phillies. Boras didn’t shed any light on when the Harper sweepstakes might reach a conclusion.
“We've met with a number of clubs and had a lot of discussions,” Boras said, according to The Athletic’s Meghan Montemurro. “When you get to that point, certainly something can happen quickly. Something can also happen in a matter of weeks. So, you really can't put a timeline on it.”
Breen reported that Boras confirmed that the Phillies are “certainly on Bryce Harper’s list” and that he has “great comfort” with the prospect of playing in Philly. However, according to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, Boras declined to say if he spoke with Phillies owner John Middleton recently or if he thinks the Phillies want Harper.
Boras is right to a degree about Harper being comfortable in Philadelphia. While Harper’s career average of .268 at Citizens Bank Park is relatively pedestrian, his 14 homers in South Philadelphia is the most out of every opposing ballpark he’s played in. It helps that he visits often, but it still says something, since Citizens Bank Park isn’t his most-visited opposing field. He has played six more games at the Mets’ Citi Field and eight more games at Marlins Park in Florida.
The general consensus Tuesday after the Phillies signed Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million deal with a club option was that they were no longer interested in another corner outfielder, Michael Brantley. But that’s not the necessarily the case, according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. If the Phillies don’t sign Harper, Sherman wrote, they’ll still have a need for a left-handed bat, leaving open the possibility they could come back to Brantley. Although by then, Brantley may no longer be available.
Lefty J.A. Happ, the starting pitcher still on the market that makes the most sense for the Phillies, no longer looks to be an option. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch was one of a number of reporters who had sources confirming that Happ and the Yankees were closing in on a three-year deal Wednesday. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan first reported Tuesday morning that Happ had a number of two-year deals, but was waiting for a guaranteed third year. But the Phillies have not offered more than two guaranteed years for Happ, according to Zolecki. He said it wasn’t clear if an option for a third year was offered.
That’s not great news for the Phillies, who have a left-handed starter on their wish list this winter to balance their all-righty rotation. They already lost out to the Nationals on Patrick Corbin last week and whiffing on Happ would mean their top two targets at the position would be off the board. Zolecki listed Dallas Keuchel (two-and-a-half weeks away from 31) and Japan’s Yusei Kikuchi (27) as two free-agent possibilities remaining and noted both are Boras clients.
A name that has been occasionally connected to the Phillies, dating back to the July non-waiver trade deadline, is third baseman Mike Moustakas. His name has not come up much this week, but there are still whispers of the possibility he ends up in Philadelphia. Francred’s Jon Heyman reported the Phillies could have interest in Moustakas if Maikel Franco is traded, although Machado is also an option, even though he has made it clear his preferred position is shortstop.
Stephen Gross is a freelance writer.