As Bryce Harper and Manny Machado dominate Philly's attention this week, don't forget about two other free agents still on the market: Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel.
It would not be a shock to see either player with the Phillies on opening day, whether it's an agreement with Keuchel in early March a la Jake Arrieta, or a pivot to Kimbrel once there's a resolution with the two superstars.
The Phillies have checked in on most of the top free agents. They've been connected to Kimbrel and Keuchel at different points in the offseason but we wouldn't exactly classify their interest as overwhelming.
Keep this in mind, though: This front office likes to move discreetly. There weren't loud, consistent rumblings about Carlos Santana before that signing, or about Jean Segura before that trade, or about David Robertson. The Phillies have been connected to Kimbrel more this offseason than they ever were Robertson.
If/when the Phillies sign Harper/Machado, it just doesn't feel like that would be the final move of the offseason. Landing Harper or Machado would instantly turn the Phillies into a playoff contender, and baseball can be random enough in October for improbable things to happen once there. Almost overnight, the confidence level inside the clubhouse and front office would grow to the point that another medium-sized upgrade or two would be seen as having real meaning.
That's scenario 1.
Scenario 2 is the Phillies fail to get either Harper or Machado (the horror). In that event, the Phils would almost surely pounce on a few remaining free agents as they regroup and begin planning their pursuit of the next big star to come available (Nolan Arenado and the White Whale himself, Mike Trout).
Tier A of remaining free agents is Harper and Machado.
Tier B Kimbrel and Keuchel.
What's left after that are useful pieces like Marwin Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas, Josh Harrison and Adam Jones.
If the Phillies end up with Harper, forget about Carlos Gonzalez and Jones. Excess of outfielders.
If they end up with Machado, forget about Marwin Gonzalez, Moustakas and Harrison. Excess of infielders.
Moments after Harper or Machado sign here (assuming it happens), the focus shifts to pitching. The Phillies can talk themselves into their current rotation but there is plenty of risk. You know what you have in Aaron Nola. You have no idea what to expect from the other four starters, who were all brilliant in a host of games in 2018 and unable to keep the Phillies in a few too many others.
After the addition of a superstar, don't you have to protect all of your other investments by adding to the rotation? You revisit talks with Keuchel, if he's still out there, and see if he'll sign for three years like Arrieta did.
If that doesn't work, you pivot to Gio Gonzalez on a one-year deal. I'm not the biggest Gio Gonzalez guy — on the afternoons or evenings he doesn't have it, you're looking at 11 baserunners and 77 pitches by the end of the third inning — but there's no downside to adding depth to a volatile rotation. It's a lefty, which the Phils don't have, it's spring training competition for the Pivetta-Eflin-Velasquez trio, and it's security if a starter is injured or has a bad year in 2019.
Kimbrel would be a luxury, but if you can't sign another starter and the price is right — and no more than three years — why not create a dominant back-end of the bullpen with Kimbrel, David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez? It would allow Gabe Kapler to bring a devastating reliever into a jam in the fifth or sixth inning and still have two more for the eighth and ninth. He'd have the flexibility to use a powerful haymaker at any time. One of the beautiful and fun things about this game is the number of ways you can approach run prevention and run production.
If you're reading this, I know you're probably past the point of impatience. This is the state of baseball free agency in 2019 and hopefully for not too much longer. Just remember that there are still plenty of good players left beyond Harper and Machado, enough combinations for the Phillies to make more than one interesting addition before we're too deep into spring training.
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