Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will drive the action of the 2018-19 free agent market, as the two 26-year-old stars are in line to land the two biggest contracts in baseball history. Here’s the latest buzz on what teams may or may not be preparing to pursue either of the duo…
- The Braves have been mentioned as speculative suitors for Harper and Machado, and Atlanta even had some interest in Machado at the trade deadline. A pursuit of either player this winter, however, might not be in the cards, as per GM Alex Anthopoulos’ comments in an interview with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio on Siriux XM (audio link). “We can be in on any player, we certainly have the dollars to do that. I don’t know that it makes a lot of sense….to do deals that are ten years in length and longer at significant dollars with the payroll that we have,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s not a rule for us, but I tend to not see a ton of value from our club that that would make sense for us….That doesn’t mean we won’t at least explore some things and see if we could line up on the right deal and the right term, but I am reluctant to go extremely long in terms of length.” Freddie Freeman’s eight-year, $135MM deal (signed in February 2014, long before Anthopoulos was with the franchise) is the biggest contract in Braves history, though that extension was signed while Freeman was still 24 and in his first arbitration-eligible year.
- Could the Mets take a run at Machado? Recent history would seem to indicate against it, though the New York Post’s Joel Sherman lays out the case why pursuing Machado wouldn’t be so far-fetched an idea, starting with new GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s statement about how the team is planning to contend in 2019. Signing Machado would obviously be a big help on that front, and Sherman also notes that keeping Machado away from the Yankees would also be of interest to the PR-conscious Wilpon family. In terms of payroll, the Mets don’t have any salaries whatsoever on the books beyond the 2020 season, plus even Machado’s 2019 salary could be covered via injury insurance payouts from David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes’ contracts. Sherman also speculates that adding Machado would turn young shortstop Amed Rosario into a very valuable trade chip the Mets could use to address other needs, or the team could try a scenario where Machado plays shortstop in 2019 and Rosario moves to second base, with Machado potentially moving back to third base in 2020 once Todd Frazier’s contract is up.
- The Cardinals will check in on Harper as part of what could be a busy offseason for the team, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. As one industry source puts it, the Cards are “sending signals they are out to be a player” as a response to their three-year postseason drought, and also because they’ve missed out on other some major winter targets (i.e. Giancarlo Stanton, David Price) in recent years. While the Cardinals still have some hesitations about extended long-term commitments to players, they could agree to such a contract in unique cases — as Goold notes, the team’s willingness to take on Stanton’s contract could hint that they are open to the record-setting deal it would take to land Harper. Installing Harper as the everyday right fielder would make Dexter Fowler expendable, though St. Louis could also give Harper some time in center field while platooning Fowler and Harrison Bader between the two outfield spots.
- The Giants also made a run at Stanton last winter, and San Francisco makes a lot of sense as a landing spot for Harper, as ESPN.com’s Buster Olney writes in a subscription-only piece. Beyond the major upgrade Harper would bring to the Giants’ shaky outfield, Harper could find the Bay Area as much of a fit as another often-controversial star (Barry Bonds) did years ago, though obviously Bonds had the hometown factor in his favor. Olney notes that Giants owner Charles Johnson “was all-in on the idea of adding Stanton,” and the club’s traditional willingness to spend big on free agents could be more indicative of future plans than what the Giants’ yet-to-be-named new general manager has in mind.