Frozen Market for Harper, Machado May Not Thaw Soon as Phillies Wait Patiently

With the Phillies apparently ramping up their pursuit of Bryce Harper and the White Sox seemingly focused on Manny Machado, it’s felt as though a little momentum is building in the market. But that might be little more than skewed optics and a staggeringly slow offseason, according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic ($).

Even though Phillies owner John Middleton playfully boasted about spending stupid money back in November, it now appears any recklessness has been replaced by patience. As Gelb writes, the Phillies are so confident they’ll land one of the two superstars that they’re willing to wait out the market. Yes, even if it means watching one of them come off the board to another offer first.

Reports has been spotty at best this winter, with even the most connected journos relaying erroneous information more than once. Even narrowing the focus to the White Sox’ pursuit of Machado, we see several inconsistencies in the duration and value being offered.

And take this tweet from Michael J. Duarte of NBC LA:

I’ve seen steel beams less tempered than that report, but I guess you can’t be wrong if you don’t really say anything. Some have thrown out the idea that the Sox could try to consummate a deal by the end of the week to coincide with Cubs Convention and steal a little thunder from their cross-town cousins. That’d be a poetically just way to flex, so I can’t blame them.

The only thing we seem to know for certain at this point is that both Harper and Machado will sign somewhere this season and that they won’t both sign in Philly. Of course, that latter bit comes from Gelb, who wrote that “league sources insisted the Phillies have made this much clear during negotiations.” So while there’s no reason to doubt it on principle, we’re still talking about the same kind of sourced information that’s been all over the map elsewhere.

And that’s where the Phillies are central to this whole mess, since they seem to be the only team actively involved with both top players. With all due respect to the inevitable mystery teams or late arrivals, Middleton and GM Matt Klentak are perfectly comfortable with their current negotiating position. They’ve got money and open communication with both players, with the former being most important.

All indications are that the White Sox have not come off of their original offer to Machado of seven years for $25-30 million. That means anywhere from $175-210 million total, a far cry from the $300-350 he was initially thought to have been targeting. It’s also been reported that Machado will make his decision based on the biggest offer, which contradicts the idea that he’s leaning Sox.

The Phillies no doubt understand as much and could be trying to wait Machado out, perhaps even turning up the heat on him with their public pursuit of Harper. It’s all quite convoluted and basically amounts to a multi-faceted pissing match in which no one but the parties involved understands exactly what’s going on. But, man, that metaphor falls flat when you consider that everyone is just getting pissed off.

This all has the effect of clogging up the rest of the free-agent market as well, since many teams are waiting for the fallout from the two biggest moves before making smaller ones. Even if teams aren’t in on Harper or Machado, those players’ eventual destinations could spur counter-measures from divisional opponents. And if the Phillies are cool with waiting into February, we’re going to see more than a couple players unsigned into spring training.

Fun, huh?

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