The big question heading into the offseason for the Phillies surrounds free agency.
They will mix it up for the biggest names on the market. That means Manny Machado. That means Bryce Harper.
It would not be surprising to see a team with the Phillies’ needs and wealth land one of these players. There has even been speculation — wild, throwing you-know-what-against-the-wall speculation — that the team could land both.
That has always been a long shot.
Club president Andy MacPhail essentially confirmed as much during his end-of-season meeting with reporters on Tuesday.
“There has been some speculation about what we’re going to do which I find to be just someone just didn’t put a paper and pencil together and do the math,” MacPhail said.
The bidding for Machado and Harper is expected to open at more than $250 million and could rise over $300 million. Even in the form of eight- to 10-year contracts, that’s a potentially unwieldy amount of payroll tied up in two players, especially with core players such as Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins possibly needing to be locked up in the not-too-distant future.
And there’s also the matter of maintaining financial flexibility beyond next season when the looming free-agent class will be equally impressive with the likes of Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole and Paul Goldschmidt hitting the market.
“It's essential to me that you always allow yourself enough payroll to deal with things from year to year as the facts on the ground change,” MacPhail said. “This isn't the last year that major-league baseball is ever going to be played, so you're not going to throw every resource you have at this year because there's the following year as well.”
The facts on the ground for 2018 showed a Phillies team that was a first-place club through four months because it had good starting pitching. It showed a team that was, at best, inconsistent offensively and consistently poor defensively.
MacPhail said, “I would anticipate that we’re always going to be active,” in free agency and he added that ownership has carried top-five payrolls before and is willing to do it again. But he also asked rhetorically if one player would fix all of the Phillies’ shortcomings, which may simply have been his way of managing expectations in case the Phillies strike out on the free-agent market. There will be other bidders for the big guys, you know.
“I guess if you were going to invest all you had on one star-type player, then that would be sort of an acknowledgement that you think you may be one player away,” MacPhail said. “I think we're going to have to make some hard evaluations as to really, are we what we were the first 117 games (of 2018) or the last 45? The truth is, we're probably somewhere in between.
“Fans want to see you win. Your job is to win. So what our baseball operations department has to do is try to find the best formula to do that. Whether that includes a superstar-type player or whatever, that’s the goal they have to reach for.”