Consider this the second in a two-part series that started with last week’s plea to the Yankees to end the charade and sign Bryce Harper already.
Pitchers and catchers are already reporting for spring training in Florida and Arizona, and 29 of 30 clubs will be holding workouts by Thursday. And yet Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned in an offseason that most expected would be a free-agent feeding frenzy and has instead turned into a long meditation on the unintended effects of compounding luxury-tax penalties.
The Phillies’ circumstances are quite a bit different than the Yankees’ are: They didn’t just watch their hated rival win the World Series, no team official called them a “fully operational Death Star,” and they’ve never been positioned as the inevitable landing spot for every big-ticket free agent.
Plus, they’ve already done a lot to reshape and improve their roster this offseason, including trading former top prospect J.P. Crawford to Seattle for shortstop Jean Segura, signing Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal, and, most recently, landing catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins in a trade built around young pitcher Sixto Sanchez.
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I was on a train passing through Philly yesterday and noticed a billboard trumpeting the arrival of Realmuto. (I tried to take a picture, but it was one of those LED billboards that change every few seconds, and it didn’t flip back to Realmuto while I had my camera out.) And it got me thinking about how earlier this offseason, Phillies owner John Middleton told our own Bob Nightengale, “We’re going to into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little stupid about it.”
Realmuto’s a really good player, but is he the type of guy whose face you put on billboards at the end of a winter that started with you vowing to be “a little stupid” about how much money you spend? The smart trades for Segura and Realmuto imply that the Phillies are very much in go-for-it mode. But the rest of the division will be competitive: the young Braves are only getting better after their breakout 2018, the Mets made significant improvements this offseason, and the Nationals still look strong.
The NL East appears a dead heat right now, and signing Manny Machado would position the Phillies as favorites. They’re still some $50 million under the luxury-tax threshold with more money coming off the books next year. Even if they’re gearing up to make a run at the astonishing, Philly sports-loving future Hall of Famer Mike Trout in two years, committing some $30 million a year for Machado should not in any way prevent them from doing that.
Bringing on Machado to play third base would replace Maikel Franco’s average offense and subpar glove with a great bat and a superlative glove. He’d give the Phillies about as deep a lineup as exists in the National League, and more or less guarantee a return to contention for the first time since 2011.
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