Happy New Year! Here’s hoping your 2019 is off to a good start. For the Phillies, it has begun in much the same way that 2018 ended: Waiting for Manny Machado to choose a team. Two weeks have passed since the 26-year-old megastar spent a rainy afternoon in Philadelphia, his last stop on a free-agency tour that included visits with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. Machado said he wouldn’t make a decision until after the New Year, but it’s Jan. 3 and the white smoke has yet to emerge from his Miami-area home. The guess here is we won’t have to wait much longer.
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By now, three months into the offseason, we have a pretty good idea of what Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are seeking in free agency. Ten years, maybe more; at least $300 million. Those are the big, round numbers and, in all likelihood, starting points for the negotiation of their next contracts.
But how much are Machado and Harper really worth? What constitutes a reasonable offer?
As always, Machado and Harper will be paid whatever the market bears. If one team — say, the Phillies — believes it absolutely must have a particular free agent — say, Machado — as the centerpiece of its first playoff contender in seven years, then it will be more likely to make a whopper of an offer. Five years ago, the Seattle Mariners beat the Yankees' best offer for Robinson Cano by three years and $65 million. The same could happen here with the Phillies, who will need to overspend to keep Machado from fulfilling his longtime dream of playing for the Yankees.
Yet even the most absurdly motivated teams arrive at an offer by applying a formula. First, teams try to gauge a player’s value by projecting future performance, often measured in wins above replacement (fWAR). Then, they assign a monetary value to that performance. It’s an inexact science, to be sure, even if Miss Cleo is advising the general manager.
Most analytics departments use proprietary forecasting systems, but according to Steamer’s public projections, Machado will be worth 5.2 fWAR and Harper 4.9 fWAR next season. Fangraphs assigns approximately $8 million for every win above replacement. By that measure, Machado would be worth $41.6 million and Harper $39.2 million in 2019.
Like anything else that’s for sale, the cost of a win will gradually rise over the next 10 years. As they age, Machado and Harper likely will see their performances dip. But how much? At 26, it’s possible neither has reached his career peak. And both might produce enough over the first half of the contract to be worth the money regardless of what happens on the back end.
Given their youth relative to most free agents — Mookie Betts will be 28 and Mike Trout 29 if/when they reach the open market in 2020-21 — it’s hardly a stretch to think Machado and Harper will receive decade-long contracts. The bigger question, it seems, is whether either will get a record-setting $35 million average annual value.
Suddenly, though, 10 years and $350 million hardly feel like an overpay. And the most motivated team might even have to go farther and higher than that.
OK, see if you can follow this: It’s dumb to think the Phillies wouldn’t be smart to spend a stupid sum of owner John Middleton’s fortune on Machado. So says Bob Brookover in a column that you’d be wise to read.
While they wait for Machado, the Phillies reportedly have scheduled a meeting with Harper and agent Scott Boras in Las Vegas, Harper’s hometown.
In case you missed it over the holidays, Frank Fitzpatrick caught up with former Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a Delaware County native who offered some interesting insight into Mike Trout’s chances of eventually coming home to play for the Phillies.
Jan 11: Deadline for teams, players to exchange salary arbitration figures.
Jan. 22: Reading hosts Phillies winter banquet, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 24: Phillies winter banquet in Bethlehem, Pa., 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 22: Phillies open spring-training schedule at Rays, 1:05 p.m.
March 28: Opening day vs. Braves at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.
Hall of Fame ballots were due on New Year’s Eve. Some decisions were easy. Mariano Rivera is a Hall of Famer; Rick Ankiel is not. But others required more thought.
Take Scott Rolen, for instance.
This is my fourth year as a Hall of Fame voter. I didn’t put a check next to Rolen’s name last year, mainly because I already had cast the maximum 10 votes. This year, the ballot was less crowded. After checking off my holdovers (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner) and first-timers Rivera and Roy Halladay, I had two votes to play with. I took a closer look at Larry Walker and Gary Sheffield, both of whom I have considered in the past. I decided Walker merited a vote. I’m not yet sold on Sheffield.
Then I dug in on Rolen’s career. He played 17 seasons in the majors but reached 500 at-bats only seven times because of injuries. Still, he finished with 2,077 hits, 517 doubles, and 316 homers. He was NL Rookie of the Year with the Phillies in 1997, a seven-time all-star, and a champion with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 (he batted .427 in that World Series). He also won eight Gold Gloves, more than any third baseman except Brooks Robinson (16) and Mike Schmidt (10). And Rolen’s offensive numbers (.281/.364/.490) are far superior to Robinson’s (.267/.322/.401).
But here are the two stats that swayed me: Rolen’s .490 slugging percentage ranks seventh all-time among third basemen with at least 1,000 games played, while his adjusted OPS of 122 is tied for 11th.
To me, that’s the look of a Hall of Famer.
Question: Do you really believe Jorge Alfaro is a big league catcher? What a waste of an arm. He catches on [one] knee with men on base, can not get in front of the breaking ball in the dirt to a right hand batter. He is horrible and [Andrew] Knapp is worse. They will never go anywhere with him catching. Plus he can not catch up to a big league fastball. Please urge them to get a defensive catcher - Ed P., email.
Answer: Thanks, Ed, for your question/comment. I’m flattered that you think the Phillies a) solicit or b) listen to my opinion. Sorry to say I don’t have that kind of sway.
But since you asked, yes, I do think Alfaro possesses the ability, specifically the arm, to be a solid major-league catcher. That said, he has a lot of work to do before he can be classified as such. While his pitch framing was better last season, his blocking remains a big issue, as you noted. I wonder, too, about his sense for calling a game, a skill that can be learned over time by a 25-year-old entering his second full major-league but also can be innate.