You’ve probably taken down the Christmas tree, put away the lights, lawn displays and menorahs, and come to the conclusion that the holidays are finally over. You’ve obviously forgotten about the holiday that Major League Baseball loves most of all. Yes, that would be Groundhog Day. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado awoke this morning to Sonny and Cher singing, “Babe, I got you, babe.” They also awoke without a new team. Who knew it could be so difficult to decide where to go to collect a bi-weekly check that will likely be north of $2.5 million?
The plot sickens. And stop me if you heard this story before: The Phillies are headed to Las Vegas on Saturday to visit with Bryce Harper and his agent, Scott Boras. Phillies owner John Middleton will be part of the contingent. In fact, he’ll be the most important part. Presumably, they could have done this a month ago when the winter meetings were in Las Vegas, but back then, the Phillies were more focused on signing Machado. Maybe they still are now. It’s difficult to say for certain.
We can tell you that the actual Groundhog Day is Saturday, Feb. 2. We’d like to tell you that Machado and Harper will both be signed by then. If they’re not, we might drive off a cliff with Phil Connors or smack Ned Ryerson across the face.
“Babe, I got you, babe.”
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The focus since the start of the offseason has been on Machado and Harper, and that is not going to change until the top free agents sign. Even though we are more than two months into free agency, there is still a long list of unsigned free agents who could help a lot of teams.
So let’s have a little fun here and put together an all-unsigned team that does not include Harper or Machado.
The rotation: Dallas Kuechel, Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley, Derek Holland, and Edwin Jackson. That group has a combined career record of 454-432 with a 4.14 ERA. The five have also combined for six All-Star appearance and one Cy Young Award. If I was the Phillies, the pitcher I would want the most from that list is Gonzalez. He did not pitch well with the Nats last season, but he posted a 2.13 ERA in his final five starts with Milwaukee.
The bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, Tyler Clippard, Cody Allen, Sergio Romo, David Phelps, and George Kontos. Kimbrel, of course, is arguably the best reliever on the market, but it appears as if he might also be the most disappointed bullpen free agent when this offseason concludes. The Phillies right now are trying to subtract a veteran such as Tommy Hunter or Pat Neshek rather than add any of this group. Nevertheless, you could win a lot of games with the above bullpen.
First base: Matt Davidson. It’s hard to believe how weak an offensive position first base was in this free-agent class. The best of the group was Daniel Murphy, who got a two-year deal worth $24 million from Colorado.
Second base: Brian Dozier. The former all-star with the Twins had a down season in 2018, but he hit a combined 56 home runs in the previous two seasons. D.J. LaMahieu, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Josh Harrison are also still out there. The Phillies do not need another second baseman.
Shortstop: Jose Iglesias. A former all-star with Detroit, Iglesias has made just 20 errors in 388 games over the last three seasons. Freddy Galvis is still out there, too, and you have to think some day he will settle into a role as a super utility player.
Third base: Mike Moustakas. There have been some rumblings that the Phillies might go after Moustakas if they fail to sign Machado or Harper. His power numbers could soar at Citizens Bank Park.
Left field: Marwin Gonzalez. He is the best super utility player still on the market.
Center field: A.J. Pollock. The oft-injured former Diamondback is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.
Right field: Nick Markakis. At 34, he just had one of the best years of his career with the Braves.
Catcher: Yasmani Grandal. He’s one of the best three offensive catchers in baseball.
Put that team together, and at the very least, you’d have a shot at earning a wild-card spot. But in all likelihood, those guys are going to have to wait for Machado and Harper to make up their minds before a team signs them.
The news broke last week that the Phillies planned to meet with Bryce Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, in the outfielder’s hometown of Las Vegas. The news broke this week that the meeting will take place Saturday. Manager Gabe Kapler, general manager Matt Klentak, team president Andy MacPhail, and managing general partner John Middleton will represent the Phillies.
Star reliever David Robertson became the latest free agent to join the Phillies when he signed last Thursday. The Phillies paid Robertson $23 million over two years, and the New York Mets gave Jeurys Familia $30 million over three years. Most would argue that the Phillies made the better business decision.
Our Scott Lauber described David Robertston as a perfect fit for manager Gabe Kapler’s bullpen because he does not care about being the closer as long as he is pitching in high-leverage situations.
The Phillies do not seem to be in any hurry to add a starting pitcher to their rotation, and maybe that’s because they are going to lean on their bullpen more than ever in 2019 after signing David Robertson. I looked at that possibility in my most recent column.
Former Phillies slugger Ryan Howard had an audition with the MLB Network this week, and he weighed in on the Manny Machado-Bryce Harper sweepstakes. Spoiler alert: His hot take was that they should build without them in anticipation of signing Mike Trout, the biggest superstar in big-league baseball.
Jan. 22: Gabe Kapler and Nick Pivetta among Phillies making a winter caravan stop at the Crowne Plaza in Reading.
Jan. 24: Hector Neris joins Kapler and Pivetta as the winter tour moves to the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, Pa.
Feb. 22: The Grapefruit League season opens with the Phillies playing Tampa Bay in Port Charlotte, Fla.
March 28: The Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in the season opener at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.
On this date in 1950, the Phillies discarded any affiliation with their Blue Jays nickname. After purchasing the franchise from William Cox, who had been banned for life by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for betting on his own team, Bob Carpenter Jr. decided the woebegone Phillies needed a major makeover, including a new name.
Though they officially remained the Phillies, the team had a Blue Jays logo on their uniforms in 1944 and 1945. And then on Jan. 10, it was officially removed and the Phillies' Whiz Kids took the team to its second World Series in franchise history that year.
Question: The 2019 Phillies need two left-handed proven starters, now that they’ve improved the overloaded bullpen. Don’t you think that they would be best served by saving their “stupid” money for a shot at Mike Trout, who would love to be here, than attempting to persuade Machado and/or Harper who would not want to play in Philly for this manager?
-- Bill D., email
Answer: Thanks for the question, Bill, and for reading Extra Innings. I don’t think the Phillies need two proven left-handed starters, and I don’t even necessarily think they need one. What they do need is at least one proven veteran starting pitcher to add to the mix.
The free-agent market has been seriously depleted, and the best two options remaining in my opinion are lefties Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez. The trade market is also a potential option, but it’s obvious Cleveland’s asking price for Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer is very high.