Jumping in as late suitors, Padres will make a pitch to Bryce Harper

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San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller will make a late pitch for Bryce Harper

Last week’s big news on the Manny Machado free agency front came when it was revealed that the San Diego Padres were the previously rumored ‘mystery team’ to enter the race for the young superstar free agent infielder.

Now today comes word from perhaps the most reliable MLB insider in the business that the Padres are tossing their hats into the ring for Bryce Harper as well.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted out the following message this morning:
Early in the off-season, San Diego was considered a long-shot to land either of the big names. The logic behind that thinking was that the Padres were probably at least a couple of years away from contending status in the National League West Division.
However, as this off-season has developed their organizational strategy has clarified. The Padres selling point is that they are considered to have one of the top, if not the very top, group of minor league prospects in the game today.
Harper or Machado would theoretically be signing long-term, possibly as long as a decade. So the superstar(s) would be part of an incremental improvement right away, and then become the centerpiece of a genuine long-term contender that would emerge over the next couple of years.
Just yesterday, Jack Dickey at Sports Illustrated described that San Diego system as follows: “The farm system is as flush as any in recent memory; just days ago, MLB.com ranked 10 Padres prospects among the game’s top 100, with five of them, including No. 2 overall prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr., expected to contribute as major leaguers in 2019.
Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, president of baseball operations Erik Greupner, and executive vice-president/general manager A.J. Preller are now exploring every avenue to turn around the fortunes of a franchise that hasn’t won the division since back-to-back NL West crowns in 2005-06.
The Padres have not experienced a winning season since 2010, and have finished no higher than third place in the division since that point. The club finished in the NL West basement twice in the last three years. They have experienced just 14 winning seasons in the 50-year history of the franchise.
Believing that the gems in their minor league system are for real, that San Diego brain trust appears ready to make a sincere attempt to write a better story for their future. They began this off-season jumping into the free agent game back in December by signing pitcher Garrett Richards and second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Landing Harper and/or Machado and adding them to a core group that also includes first baseman Eric Hosmer (29), outfielders Wil Myers (28) and Hunter Renfroe (27) and those talented, emerging prospects led by Tatis, Francisco Mejia, and Luis Urias would theoretically make the Padres at least a dangerous team in the short-term.
In the longer term, improving the pitching staff will be the key to San Diego getting and staying competitive. That will be true even if they are able to somehow reel in both Harper and Machado. Fortunately, nine of the top dozen prospects in what is considered baseball’s #1 system are all pitchers. That group should reach the bigs at various points over the next 2-3 years.
We’ll learn how serious the San Diego bid for the two free agents was as the process finally draws to a close at some point. It is entirely possible that allowing the Padres into the process this late in the game is simply a ploy by the agents to drive up the final contract value for their clients.
Many Phillies fans have begun expressing extreme frustration at the lengthy process. That frustration draws partly on the club’s collapse last summer, partly from the losing of the last half-dozen years after a decade of huge success, and partly from the Phillies genuine interest in pursuing the two talents.
What we somehow need to keep in mind is that these are two 26-year-old young men who are likely trying to make a decision that will affect the major portion of the next decade of their lives, both on a professional and personal level.
Whichever organization either Harper or Machado choose to sign with is likely going to become the place they perform during the entirety of their prime playing years. It will become the team with whom they are likely to become most identified for the rest of a potential Hall of Fame history.
Tonight’s meeting in Las Vegas between Harper and the Padres contingent is, for now, just one more step in what has been a long off-season negotiation process. Why anyone ever thought that actually signing one of two generational talents was going to happen quickly is anyone’s guess.

State of the Phillies address given by GM Matt Klentak during radio interview

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Matt Klentak answered numerous questions today on 97.5 FM The Fanatic

It was just shy of three months ago now that I wrote here at Phillies Nation that general manager Matt Klentak should be considered as being on the proverbial ‘hot seat’ during this current ‘hot stove’ off-season.

My principle argument could be summed up at that time in one paragraph from that November piece: “Phillies fans have waited through those six losing years. Klentak has not done a single thing to this point to elicit their confidence. His statements so far this off-season, and those of club president Andy MacPhail, have done nothing to excite them.
Since that time, the GM has made a handful of moves that could be pushing the club further along in their attempt to return to consistent contending status.
On December 3, Klentak shipped away the horrible Carlos Santana contract to the Seattle Mariners, correcting a misstep of his from a year earlier, along with perennially disappointing shortstop J.P. Crawford. In exchange he brought back a legitimate big-league shortstop in Jean Segura, as well as a pair of veteran relievers in righty Juan Nicasio and lefty James Pazos.
Just three days later he dumped righty reliever Luis Garcia, who had fashioned an ERA north of the 6.00 mark in two of the last three years, to the Los Angeles Angels. In return the Phillies GM brought back experienced southpaw reliever Jose Alvarez, who at age 29 is coming off the best season of his six-year big-league career.
Less than a week after that deal, Klentak signed free agent outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract. The 32-year-old former National League Most Valuable Player is certainly not the player that he once was during his 2011-17 peak with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But he will definitely improve the team’s left field defense, if nothing else.

Klentak started off the new year of 2019 strong when he inked veteran right-handed reliever David Robertson to a two-year, $23 million free agent contract. Robertson has been one of the best relief pitchers in the game for a decade, and further strengthens a bullpen that appears to be a strong suit heading into spring training.
That was a busy month for the GM, with two solid trades and two nice free agent signings between December 3 and January 3. But while he was making those moves, his counterparts in the NL East Division were not sitting on their hands.

NL EAST RIVALS ALSO MAKING MOVES

The Atlanta Braves, who won the division a year ago, added third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann and re-signed outfielder Nick Markakis, all as free agents.
Corbin, who the Phillies wooed, ended up signing with the rival Nationals. (Joe Giglio/SportsRadio 94 WIP)
The Washington Nationals brought in a pair of new catchers in Yan Gomes via trade and Kurt Suzuki as a free agent. They signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal for their bullpen and starters Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez for their rotation. And then in January the Nats added veteran second baseman Brian Dozier.
Both of those clubs also have a talented group of youngsters who can be expected to bring excitement to their lineups in the coming years. The Braves have second baseman Ozzie Albies (22) and outfielder Ronald Acuna (21) leading a group that also includes a bevy of young pitchers. The Nationals have outfielders Victor Robles (21) and Juan Soto (20) leading the youth brigade.
The New York Mets, who were charging up behind the Phillies last September and finished right behind them in the standings, have also improved. In December, new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen swung his own deal with Seattle, landing the big bat of second baseman Robinson Cano and perhaps the best young closer in the game today in Edwin Diaz.
Not stopping there, Van Wagenen has added catcher Wilson Ramos, second baseman Jed Lowrie, third baseman J.D. Davis, outfielders Keon BroxtonRajai Davis, and Gregor Blanco, and pitchers Jeurys FamiliaHector Santiago, and Justin Wilson.

KLENTAK 1.30.19 INTERVIEW ON 97.5 FM

The reason that it is important to point out what those other clubs are doing relates directly to what Klentak had to say today during a wide-ranging radio interview today with Mark Farzetta and Tra Thomas on 97.5 FM The Fan.
During that interview, Klentak made a statement that should send shivers up the spine of every Phillies fan hoping that the team will become a true contender in the coming 2019 season:

If spring training started tomorrow, we’d be really happy with our off-season. We wanted to be better defensively and offensively, and I think we’ve done that so far.

There is nothing wrong with the second part of that statement. The Phillies projected roster and lineup does indeed appear to be improved offensively and defensively. The additions of Segura and McCutchen, and the switch of Rhys Hoskins back to first base, should ensure those things.
However, the first part of that statement is what should concern the fan base. If Klentak is truly happy with those improvements were we to start spring training now, as if this would be all the team is planning on doing, then he is once again playing the role of snake-oil salesman in trying to sell you on a deficient product.
Considering the returning talent levels and the additions made by the Phillies and the other three divisional contenders – without even considering the rest of the National League – to be “happy” with where this Phillies team is right now is not a word that I would personally use to describe my own feelings.
McCutchen (L) is a nice addition, but he is going to need help from someone like Machado (R) in the middle of the Phillies lineup. (Keith Allison/WikiCommons)
In my opinion, as things presently stand, the Phillies are right where they were when last season ended, talent-wise. A fair evaluation would rank them third or fourth in the division, with the Braves and Nats ahead and the Mets on their level.
You could certainly argue that if every single thing went right, the Phillies could contend. If players like Maikel FrancoNick WilliamsScott Kingery, and Odubel Herrera all improve. If pitchers such as Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez improve. If Aaron Nola repeats his outstanding season. If Jake Arrieta turns back the clock. If Rhys Hoskins emerges as a true star player.
I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of “ifs” for me. Any reasonable thinker who has any experience in following the game knows that things never go according to plan, and that the absolute best-case scenario never develops.
This Phillies team still needs a middle-of-the-order proven, dynamic run-producer or two. They still need a more proven starting pitcher to bolster the rotation, preferable a left-hander.
The answers to that first need are available and obvious. Klentak specifically commented on the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado situations.
We had Manny in here in late-December, before Christmas, and went to visit Bryce in early-January in Las Vegas. That’s kinda been the extent of what we’ve publicized…Those were both really good meetings.”

“Now there’s ongoing dialogue with their representatives. I’m pretty sure their representatives are talking to other teams as well. I don’t know exactly what’s going to cause one or both of them to sign and move to resolution.“

When asked as to his confidence level on the Phillies ability to actually get to that resolution and sign one or the other, Klentak stated the following:
That’s a good question. I don’t know if I know the answer to that, really. We only know half the equation…I can tell you this, I feel confident that we put a really strong foot forward, both with our presentations to these guys…I feel really good about that, the pitches that we’ve made. We know these agents, both of them really well. We have good relationships with them, so the dialogue and the communication’s been good. It’s probably the extent of how I can answer that.
“I’ve been hesitant to answer that one all offseason because it really doesn’t benefit us as a franchise to disclose that right now” – Matt Klentak on if offers have been made to 1 or both of Harper & Machado

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In an acknowledgement of the current market’s strength, but also nodding to the fact that it isn’t the only good free agent market to come, Klentak stated the following:
The one thing we have to always remember is that this is not the last free agent class of all-time. It’s a good one. It’s an important one. This is an important off-season for our franchise, I don’t want to minimize that. But you have to have some discipline too, because there’s gonna be really good players next year too, and really good players the following year. And I don’t know what holes we’re gonna have on our roster after 2019 or 2020. But I’m pretty confident there will be something, because if not, we’d be the first team in the history of baseball to enter an off-season with no needs.”

PHILLIES APPEAR TO BE HEDGING THEIR BETS

There is no guarantee that Trout will actually
reach free agency after 2020,
or that he would choose the Phillies.

What his comments during this appearance show me is that the team is still aggressively involved in both the Harper and Machado battles.

However, those comments also tell me that the Phillies are hedging their bets to an extent, preparing fans for the possibility that they could lose out on both by holding out the carrot of future possibilities.
While landing Nolan Arenado next off-season and Mike Trout the following year sounds nice, the fact remains that no one knows whether either of those attractive superstars will ever reach free agency. The Angels are certainly going to try everything in their power to keep Trout, who has been the face of their franchise for the last half-dozen years.
If the Phillies cannot close on a deal with either Harper or Machado, then selling the wider Philly sports fan base on the baseball team during 2019 is going to be a difficult proposition. That is going to again reflect in the attendance figures down at Citizens Bank Park.
Klentak, club president Andy MacPhail, and controlling owner John Middleton need to figure out what at least one of those players needs to, as Klentak put it today, “sign and move to resolution” – with the Phillies.

False rumors of Bryce Harper to the Phillies, and how they began

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Strong rumors had Bryce Harper to the Phillies today – they were unfounded

Phillies Nation woke on Tuesday morning, January 29 to the exciting news spreading like wildfire across the internet that Bryce Harper had chosen a team to sign with as one of baseball’s biggest free agents in years.

But as the day dragged on and no formal announcement came and no press conference was announced, that excitement dissolved into an even deeper level of frustration.
It was lunch time when Jim Salisbury, the Phillies insider at NBC Sports Philadelphia, made an appearance on local sports radio station 97.5 FM ‘The Fanatic’ and stated “I’ve been hearing the same hysteria all morning as you have. I’m not feeling anything coming down today.”

Salisbury then expounded on his knowledge of the current situation involving the Phillies and both Harper and Manny Machado:
“I have seen that they have made an offer to Machado, but I have not seen that they have made an offer for Harper. I still think they want to see what happens with Machado and then spend aggressively with Harper.” – @JSalisburyNBCS

That statement by someone believed to be intimately close to the organization had the effect of an army of firefighters shooting water and dropping vast amounts of fire-retardant foam to extinguish the early wildfire of rumors
So what happened? Just two days ago, things were so quiet of late on the Harper situation that I actually wrote a piece here at Phillies Nation on that silence having taking on such a deafening quality that it could mean we were near a resolution. What suddenly changed to set off such a rumble of gossip and hearsay?
The spark that lit the fire came not from the speculation of a baseball insider. Instead it came from a pair of unlikely sources: the gaming and gambling industries.
First, the video game “MLB The Show” sent out the following cryptic message from their Twitter account yesterday afternoon:
It has been known for months that Harper would be on the cover of the new edition of the game. Many believed that the game would be released with Harper in the uniform of whatever team had signed him as a free agent. Yesterday’s announcement appeared to be a signal that some announcement on his decision would be forthcoming.
Approximately seven-and-a-half hours later the verified Twitter account for OddsShark, calling themselves the “most reliable source for online sports betting information“, published updated odds for MLB teams to win the World Series:
Odds to win the 2019 World Series (BetOnline):

NYY +700
BOS +750
HOU/LAD +800
CHC/PHI/STL +1200
MIL +1400
ATL/CLE/NYM +1600
WAS +2000
COL +2500
CWS/CIN/LAA/OAK/TB +3300
ARI/MIN/SEA +5000
PIT/SD/TOR +6600
SF/TEX +10000
DET/KC/MIA +15000
BAL +25000

As you can see, the Phillies have moved up into a tie with the Chicago Cubs and Saint Louis Cardinals as having the fifth-lowest odds to win the 2019 World Series. Since very few people feel that the current Phillies roster would rate that type of an evaluation, the thought was that  Las Vegas must know something.
Corey Seidman at NBC Sports Philly speculated this morning on the significance of the Vegas oddsmakers moving the Phillies aggressively upward, writing the following:
OddsShark now has the Phillies at +1200 to win the World Series, tied with the Cubs and Cardinals for the fifth-shortest odds in baseball. Three weeks ago, OddsShark released its over-under win totals and the Phillies were at 83. The Cubs were at 89 and the Cardinals 88.5. This is a pretty sizable shift. Some are reading into it that one or more sportsbooks have an idea that Harper is signing with the Phillies…it makes sense for the books to limit their potential exposure and protect themselves with a +1200 figure rather than a much higher one that would drop if/when the Phillies add a superstar.
By that point the “Harper to the Phillies on Tuesday” fires were raging. Everyone from reliable sites, including us here at Phillies Nation, to obviously satirical sources were jumping on the bandwagon and fanning the flames.
Most of these morning “reports” were of the humorous nature. Harper was being spotted at local Wawa outlets, famous eateries, and other area businesses. Some of the items included humorous memes, GIFs and obviously altered photographs. Even the Philadelphia Police Department got in on the act:

The rumors are true*: Bryce Harper* is coming to Philadelphia [police]*. It’s a multi-year deal worth $51,245 per year to start, with a city option to increase annually. Please refer all questions regarding Manny Machado to @PhillyFireDept . (*not actually true.)

When the “MLB The Show 19” video game was finally announced for pre-order this afternoon, the official website featured Bartolo Colon. The videos of Harper found at the site were those of his recent performances with the Washington Nationals. Turns out that the game promoters had simply trolled us all.
While it all made for a fun and exciting day across Phillies Nation, in the end we are left at the exact same place where we have been for months. Nowhere new. The Phillies are still interested in the young superstar and are believed to remain the favorites to land Harper.
Maybe an announcement will come tomorrow, or by the weekend, or next week, or during spring training. Maybe it will come, but the Phillies won’t be the choice. Who knows? What we do know is that the rumor mill got us all pretty good today.

The lesson we learned is that we are likely going to have to wait until we hear from one of those verified and trusted baseball insiders that an agreement has been reached on Harper and Machado. In the meantime, the frustration level of many Phillies fans has now only increased.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Bryce Harper and the power of rumors

Carlos Ruiz is the fan choice to become the next Phillies Wall of Famer

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‘Chooch’ is the clear favorite of fans for Wall of Fame enshrinement

A couple of weeks ago here at Phillies Nation, I published a piece speculating on which non-2008 players might be worth of a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame. Fans responded by tossing out a number of their own choices as commentary, either directly at the website or via social media.

Names not mentioned in my piece but suggested by fans included 1960’s-era players Rick WiseTony Gonzalez, and Cookie Rojas. The National League Most Valuable Player in 1950 and a key pitcher with the NL champions that year, Jim Konstanty was also mentioned. There was even someone who brought up some early-1900’s names such as Dave BancroftJack Clements, and Jimmie Wilson.
As a result of the comments, I decided to actually reach out and poll the fan base to see who their favorite might be to become the next Phillies Wall of Famer.
I decided to run the polling in a two-phase process. I would run a pair of four-player semi-final polls to kick things off. Then would take those receiving the most support and put them into a three-player finals poll. This was a simple Twitter poll, so I am claiming no special scientific method used.
As criteria, I left out most of the early-1900’s players. Fact is, those players historically receive little to no support from modern fans in such polls. Though this recency factor working against them is unfair, it is also a genuine phenomenon. However, I’ve always been a big supporter for 1910’s first baseman Fred Luderus, so put him into one of the semis polls.
The results in those semis with 241 total fans responding were as follows:
Poll #1: Carlos Ruiz 55%, Pete Rose 35%, Bobby Abreu 8%, Fred Luderus 2%
Poll #2: Shane Victorino 39%, Dan Baker 27%, Cliff Lee 18%, Manny Trillo 16%
As you can see, the two 2008 players received the greatest support, something that I anticipated. I decided to move Chooch and The Flyin’ Hawaiian into the final poll.

As the third choice, I made it public address announcer Dan Baker, who now has nearly 50 years with the organization and whose voice is recognizable to generations of Phillies fans. I also factored in that the club is not likely to actually consider Rose again any time soon, if at all.
That final poll resulted in tremendous response as 2,107 individuals cast ballots. The final voting result was a little more lopsided than I had anticipated:
If these are the only choices, your vote for next @Phillies Wall of Famer:
20%Dan Baker
59%Carlos Ruiz
21%Shane Victorino

Based on my little non-scientific polling it would appear that Carlos ‘Chooch’ Ruiz, the catcher for the 2008 World Series champions who played with the club from 2006-16, is the clear fan favorite to become the next honoree on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
If he does get selected by the team, Chooch would become the fourth backstop to be so honored. He would join Bob Boone (2005), Darren Daulton (2010), and Mike Lieberthal (2012) as catchers previously enshrined on the Wall of Fame.

If the usual timing is followed this year, the Phillies can be expected to announce the 2019 Wall of Fame honoree in late-February. There has been no announcement at this time as to whether fans will be included as part of the process for selection of that honoree.

Is Bryce Harper on the verge of announcing his long-term home?

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A decision on Harper’s future might be coming very soon

It has been roughly ten days since I last wrote anything regarding the Phillies pursuit of free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. I said that I wasn’t going to write something every time some new rumor popped up, and I’m sticking to that here.

What has me back writing on the topic is not some new rumor that we’re hearing. Instead, it’s what we are not hearing that has me back on the topic.
Regarding the Harper situation, I am finding that the silence is deafening.
When is the last time that you heard or read any rumors regarding Harper from any legitimate, reliable source? It’s been awhile. The usual insiders and talking heads were reporting on claims of some unnamed “source” on a regular basis. Now, those reports appear to have dried up.

Contrast that with the Machado situation, where just this past week it become public knowledge that a new team, the San Diego Padres, had aggressively jumped into the hunt for the young superstar infielder.
It was Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune who first broke the story on Friday that the Padres were the “mystery team” in on Machado, something that had been widely speculated for days prior:

“According to multiple sources aware of talks between the sides but not authorized to speak publicly, the Padres are pursuing the 26-year-old superstar with the intention of playing him at third base.”

A.J. Cassavell at MLB.com followed up on Saturday by logically presenting how the 26-year-old would slot into the San Diego present and future, stating “Machado’s fit with the Padres is probably better than it is almost anywhere else.
Dennis Lin at The Athletic tweeted on Saturday that the Padres were actively seeking a face-to-face meeting with Machado and his representatives.
Sources: The Padres have expressed interest in arranging a meeting with Manny Machado, possibly in Miami. SD would like to get some face time before becoming more involved with the free agent.

What all of this continuing pursuit of Machado tells me is that he has not yet decided. Despite much speculation that his decision was likely down to the Phillies and Chicago White Sox, that appears now to be nothing more than just that – speculation.
If Machado were that close to a decision and in a serious final decision-making process, why suddenly open up what have been months-long visits, considerations, and negotiations?
You would think that he and his reps would simply thank the Padres for their interest, but let the team know that he has been involved in deep considerations with others for weeks, if not months, and was preparing to make a final decision.
To have the process remain open, or to be re-opened, and allow San Diego to become a serious suitor this late says to me that Machado is not as far along in his decision-making process as some sources might lead you to believe.
On the other hand, there is nothing coming out on Harper. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs all appear to be out. The last rumors widely circulating had the process narrowed to the Phillies, White Sox, and his old team, the Washington Nationals.
However, the more you really examine the Nationals and White Sox situations closely, the more neither team appears to be a logical fit.
Washington has already spent a lot this off-season to bring in free agent pitchers Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Trevor Rosenthal. They have looming negotiations with third baseman Anthony Rendon, who can become a free agent next off-season. And the Nats can replace Harper internally with two of the top young outfield prospects in the game in 20-year-old Juan Soto and 21-year-old Victor Robles.

The White Sox signed Alonso, who is Machado’s brother-in-law, earlier this off-season. (BubbaFan/WikiCommons)
The White Sox want to make a splash this off-season, perhaps as much as the Phillies. To that end, they have bolstered their bullpen with the additions of closer Alex Colome and setup man Kelvin Herrera via free agency.
But a strong clue as to the South Sider’s true desires can be found in their free agent position player additions. Chicago has signed both Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay this off-season.
Alonso is Machado’s brother-in-law and Jay is his good friend. As players, both are marginal additions. But as moral support for Machado, friendly faces to make a new locker room more comfortable, they could be invaluable.
What all of this continuing activity and interest in Machado tells me is that no decision is coming soon. What the silence surrounding the Harper situation tells me is the exact opposite.
I believe that it is very possible that Harper has indeed made a final decision. In that case, the silence right now would be due to his agent, Scott Boras, and the signing team going through the “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” contract process. With Harper, there are likely to be many details, including bonus incentives, “out” clauses, and both team and player options.

Hey, I could be wrong. But to me, it smells like we may be near an end to the Harper situation. And to me, the Phillies remain the most likely team to be slotting the 26-year-old outfielder into the middle of their lineup this coming season.
On Machado, well, no end appears to be in sight, and I wouldn’t lay money on the Phillies being involved at this point. We shall see.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Bryce Harper closer to a decision than Manny Machado?