The offseason is closer than ever, and it’s shaping up to be a barn burner. Both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two of the most talented and exciting young stars of baseball, are poised to hit the free agent market, and they’ll command incredibly lucrative contracts. There are countless ways their free agency could play out, but Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports thinks he knows how it will go down. He spoke to more than ten rival executives and they think the Philadelphia Phillies could sign both of them.
Wait, the Phillies? Really?
Yes, the Phillies. It still feels strange to think of them as a contender, or even just a team that is interested in signing high-priced talent. The Phillies are coming off of a brutal rebuild that landed them in (or near) the basement for six years. They said difficult goodbyes to beloved stars like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels, and they were replaced by a cavalcade less-than-inspiring players like Aaron Harang, Ty Wigginton, Mike Fontenot, Laynce Nix, and… well, it’s a long, long list.
But the Phillies front office is clearly ready for the team to be competitive again. In 2018, they fielded a lineup made of mostly young, organizational talent. Those guys were supplemented Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, two free agents the Phillies signed last offseason. Signing them showed that the Phillies were ready to spend some money, and if they make a push to sign both Machado and Harper, they’ll be spending TONS of money.
The Phillies’ payroll can handle two high-priced stars
The one thing that would stop any team from signing both Harper and Machado is money. Fortunately, that is the Phillies strength. In 2018, even after signing Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana to fairly lucrative contracts, their payroll is still barely over $100 million. In fact, their payroll of $104 million is the eighth-lowest in baseball, according to Sportrac.
The Phillies have been running low payrolls for a few years now, but they haven’t needed to. In 2014, the Phillies signed a 25-year, $5 billion TV rights contract with Comcast. That filled the team’s coffers, and now with Harper and Machado on the market, they have a chance to spend it.
Oh, and there’s one more benefit of running low payrolls filled with young, organizational talent: it steers clear of the luxury tax threshold. The threshold for 2019 is $206 million, and if a team’s payroll is higher than that, it’s subject to monetary penalties. If the Phillies keep their pre-Machado/Harper payroll around the $105 million mark, they can afford to pay both players $50 million a year EACH and they’d still be under.
The Phillies need more talent to contend
While a team like the New York Yankees might want Harper and Machado, they have enough pure talent on their team that they don’t need them. The Phillies aren’t that lucky. While they have some promising young stars like Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, and Scott Kingery, 2018 proved that they’re not enough. The Atlanta Braves have Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña, and either player alone is better than any position player the Phillies currently have on their roster.
The Phillies don’t have a true star position player. They have a legitimate ace in Aaron Nola, but they need more than just him to have a hope of ever beating the Braves in the NL East. Harper and Machado are those proven, star-caliber position players that could raise the talent level in Philly to a playoff level.
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