The White Sox biggest competition in the Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sweepstakes just got a lot better. Does that make it less likely that one of the two biggest names on the free-agent market comes to the South Side?
The Philadelphia Phillies pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins on Thursday, acquiring catcher J.T. Realmuto for a package of young players and prospects. Realmuto is a big-time upgrade to the Phillies' lineup after slashing .277/.340/.484 with 21 homers during his All-Star season in 2018.
Aside from the three games the White Sox will play against the Phillies in Philly in early August, they won't have to worry about Realmuto - with one exception: How might this new addition to the Phillies' roster affect the free-agent pursuits of Machado and Harper?
The Phillies are, like the White Sox, in the hunt for both Machado and Harper, two 26-year-old superstars who would transform the long-term futures of either organization. That long-term future has been the White Sox biggest selling point throughout this process, as they've pointed to a loaded farm system and the highly ranked prospects making their way toward the majors, where they could grow around either guy to form a perennial championship contender.
Few teams can match what the White Sox have coming. But the Phillies hope they can convince Machado or Harper that they're the safer bet because of what they have now. They made big strides in their rebuilding process last season, spending time in first place in the NL East before a second-half collapse sent them to their sixth consecutive sub-.500 finish. They boast a pair of great starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. They have a middle-of-the-order bat in Rhys Hoskins. They've made a few moves already this offseason, signing Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and trading for Jean Segura. Now add Realmuto to the list, and the Phillies are in a far better position than the White Sox to sell one of these free agents on instant contention.
Instant contention might not be a reality, however, as the Phillies play in a loaded division featuring the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals. Even the New York Mets are making moves to try to get back in that battle. Would the Phillies be better positioned to pitch a win-now roster than the White Sox? Yes. The South Siders are still playing the waiting game with their prospects and probably wouldn't be a playoff team in 2019 even with the addition of Machado or Harper. But in a crowded NL East, maybe the same would be true of the Phillies.
In the end, this facet of the overall pitch might not end up the most important in Machado and Harper's final decisions. Both players figure to be seeking long-term deals, making long-term prospects more important than short-term ones. And of course money talks, with Machado already reportedly planning on taking the richest contract offer he receives. The White Sox and Phillies are evenly matched in that arena, too, at least when it comes to the ability to offer big money. The White Sox have positioned themselves for this type of free-agent spending throughout their rebuilding process, and the Phillies vowed to "maybe be a little bit stupid" with their spending earlier this offseason.
While other teams have made their way into the Harper derby, namely the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, who have both had recent meetings with the former Washington National, the Phillies have been continually described as favorites. The White Sox have been continually decribed as favorites to land Machado. But neither player has made a decision.
Realmuto might not end up meaning much in the battle to sway Machado and Harper, but he makes the Phillies a better team. And if a better team is what one or both of these guys are looking for, it's significant.