The winter competition between superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper should be interesting; Will either or both break Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325-million deal, and perhaps even more interestingly, who will get more?
The other side competition between the two stars who shared a Beltway before Machado’s trade to the Dodgers could be a race to New York. Does either have a chance to get there?
Neither star has publicly professed any interested for any particular locale, and neither is likely to say anything with free agency looming, with no interest in cutting off any interest from any potential team (Harper, in fact, halted all talk about his free agency starting in spring training).
But there are hints, and people close to Machado suggest the Yankees might just be his first choice. One Machado friend went so far as to say that Machado — who has professed his love for shortstop — would easily give up shortstop to play for the Yankees. If he did so, that would be reminiscent of his mentor Alex Rodriguez, another Miami wunderkind who moved to third base in order to don the pinstripes.
Machado isn’t going to give away his preferences now, particularly while playing for a different marquee franchise, but multiple people say Machado and his family — who live in Miami — are all in on their love of the Yankees and New York, which fits his big-city preference and desire to get back to the East Coast. He’s said to be OK with Los Angeles, but according to others anyway, apparently views it as a stopover.
The A-Rod connection may not be quite as strong as it once was — he followed A-Rod’s advice to go to agent Dan Lozano of MVP — but word is, he likes the storyline, anyway. There’s even less scuttlebutt regarding Harper’s desires, and moreso than Machado, he would seem to have a greater chance to remain with his current team — the Washington Nationals, the only team he has ever known. While the Nats floated Harper’s name at the trade deadline, there’s no evidence they ever seriously considered dealing him, and one reason could be a desire to extend him.
There’s also been speculation connecting Harper to more different teams — the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Phillies are among those teams — but there are hints, too, that Harper may have interest in the Yankees as well.
Of course, most big free agents would love to get the Yankees involved since they are baseball’s richest and biggest team, and they should be especially ready to spend now that they are in the process of re-setting their tax rate to 20 percent (on the first $30 million over) by staying below the $197-million luxury tax threshold. But there are other hints the Yankees could hold some allure for Harper, too.
Harper’s father Ron, who pitched to him in his Home Run Derby victory in Washington, is known as a huge Mickey Mantle fan, and Harper himself wears No. 34, which some say is in tribute to Mantle’s famous No. 7 (the 3 and 4 add up). And while he isn’t saying a word, friends of Harper speak of the possibility of him landing in New York, despite what would seem to be an uneasy fit.
The fit could actually be an issue for both superstars and New York, as the Yankees seem set at shortstop and third base, and for that matter second base, and they seem especially set for corner outfielders. Those near the Yankees, who have heard about Machado’s interest in coming to New York, suggest their main need is in the rotation. Targets for them could include Patrick Corbin, a New York product who has already professed his admiration for the pinstripes, or their own J.A. Happ, who is off to a huge start. They’d also presumably love to extend shortstop Didi Gregorius, though nothing has been discussed on that front yet since they have to wait until their tax is re-set to extend him.
As for Machado or Harper, the Yankees might need to make room by trading a productive player, if they were to go in that direction. The Yankees already have baseball’s two biggest slugging corner outfielders in Aaron Judge and the aforementioned Stanton, and with Clint Frazier a top prospect and the team holding a seemingly reasonable $12-million option on beloved center fielder Brett Gardner, the need wouldn’t seem to be in the outfield — though obviously, they could trade Gardner and use Stanton as a primary designated hitter.
The fit isn’t quite perfect for Machado, either, as he’s spoken lovingly of his “dream” to play shortstop the next “six or seven” years, and the Yankees love Gregorius, who has impressed by seamlessly replacing the iconic Derek Jeter while bringing a uniformly upbeat attitude to the game every day. Machado is said willing to go to third base for the Yankees — he hasn’t said this out loud, this is just the belief of his friends — but the Yankees are far from needy there, too; they have the current leading contender for Rookie of the Year at third base, Miguel Andujar.
This isn’t to say the Yankees, who obviously need starting pitching more than anything, are likely to sign either player. The team with the best chance to sign one or the other may be the Phillies, who have big bucks to spend after signing a monster TV deal that positions them to be perhaps the biggest players next winter.
The Phillies also may be a better fit for either player.
They would seem to have a potential opening at shortstop with J.P. Crawford hurt after struggling and Scott Kingery more a second baseman than a shortstop, and word is they wouldn’t mind Machado to come as a shortstop despite only average defensive range numbers at the position. They also could more easily fit Harper into right field, as youngster Nick Williams has been decent in right field but not so great as to preclude a run at Harper.
“I think Harper winds up with the Phillies,” one rival GM predicted.
One Phillies-connected person suggested he expects the team to talk to both superstar free agents, and didn’t rule out signing both — though that would seem to be a stretch. Machado is said by friends to be open to going to the Phillies, whose top executives including president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak originally drafted him to Baltimore.
However, the word is Philly isn’t his first choice.
Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.