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The Dodgers appear to have passed the Phillies as leaders for Harper

It has long been speculated that the Philadelphia Phillies would be spending big money this off-season. The primary focus of such speculation has been on the two biggest free agents available, outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado.

The Phillies have tons of available cash and a desperate need to add impact offensive punch to their lineup. Each of these 26-year-olds will be looking for monster financial deals. Seems like a perfect match.
Problem has always been that the Phillies are not the only team interested in the two players. They are also now increasingly looking like a second choice, at best, for each superstar player.
Machado is rumored to have long held a desire to play for the New York Yankees. Jim Bowden at The Athletic reported today the following:

“Machado has told friends in Miami that his preference is the Yankees, and if the offers are close, he’ll be headed to the Bronx.”

However, Bowden and others also believe that the Yankees are not prepared to make the same commitment in years and dollars, possibly as much as $350 million over 10 years, that the Phillies are believed willing to spend.
If that is indeed the case, then the Phillies may slip past the Yankees and win his services. Machado has reportedly told the three teams with whom he met this week – the Phillies, Yankees, and Chicago White Sox – that he won’t be making his decision until 2019.
Of course, 2019 is now just over a week away. It is very possible that the Phillies made the best financial offer, and that he and his wife now have to decide whether to accept less, perhaps tens of millions less, in order to fulfill his Yankees dream. That could well  be what is taking place over the next couple of weeks in the Machado power circle.
Harper may also have the Phillies as a second choice. He appears to have more options than Machado, with the Phillies joining the White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers as the leaders of a group that could also include the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants.
The Dodgers just completed a major trade this afternoon with the Cincinnati Reds. In that deal, Los Angeles sent starting pitcher Alex Wood, outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, and catcher Kyle Farmer to Cincy in exchange for pitcher Homer Bailey and two prospects.
Bailey is simply a contract move here, as the Dodgers have no intention of keeping the frequently injured veteran. The two prospects, shortstop Jeter Downs and pitcher Josiah Gray, are enough return for them.
For the Dodgers, this deal was more about clearing some of their outfield backlog, as well as moving contracts. Per Alden Gonzalez at ESPN, this could well have been a Harper precursor deal:

“In the deal, the Dodgers will save roughly $15 million off their luxury tax payroll for 2019 and will clear enough room in their outfield to potentially pursue free agent Bryce Harper or other targets.”

While the Dodgers could be positioning for a better run at Harper, they could also have their sights set on a number of other moves. It is believed that they are in the mix for catcher J.T. Realmuto and ace starting pitcher Corey Kluber in trade talks.
Both the Phillies and White Sox are believed to be willing to give Harper a similar deal to the one mentioned earlier for Machado, something in the neighborhood of $350 million or more over a decade. It is believed that the Dodgers would be willing to beat the average dollars, but do not want to commit that same length.
Bowden commented on this very possibility in his piece: “…Phillies and White Sox could end up offering the biggest and longest contracts, which means Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, might very well be recommending one of those teams to his client when the process is completed.
From rumblings inside the Phillies organization it does not appear that the club is willing to pay out the huge money it would take to land both Harper and Machado. The latter is believed to be their preferred target. Thursday’s meeting at Citizens Bank Park went “pretty awesome” according to Machado,

Let’s presume that in their perfect world, Machado wants the Yankees and Harper wants the Dodgers. Both players decide that the money is huge enough, and each decides to take those offers. What then, after owner John Middleton stated that the club could spend “stupid money” this off-season?
Club president Andy MacPhail was quoted as follows by Mike Rosenstein at NJ.com:
“…while he did say that we could be spending a little bit stupid, he also went to great lengths to say that one of those two signings were not going to be a prerequisite for a successful off-season. You can have a very successful off-season and not include either one of those. That may or may not be the case.”
There are other options available to the Phillies. They could pursue a shorter term deal with someone like Troy Tulowitzki at third base. They could pursue trades and other short term free agent deals, and then go after Nolan Arenado next season. The following year it would be the long-awaited free agency of Mike Trout.
While there are other options for the Phillies, the fan base would no doubt be at least a little disappointed to not land one of the two young superstar free agents this winter. No decision appears to be forthcoming from either player in short order.
Enjoy Christmas and New Year’s, and we’ll likely be heating up this segment of the Hot Stove again in early January.

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