Looks like it’s going to be Bryce Harper.
OK. Plan B.
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Manny Machado reportedly spurned the Phillies and their “stupid money" and agreed to a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, the first and biggest domino to fall in this free-agency session.
Too bad for the Phillies.
I’ve always preferred Machado to Harper. Who wouldn’t? It seems simple.
Machado has been a better hitter lately. Hits more homers, walks a little less, but a better hitter.
Machado plays better defense, by a mile. Machado won two Gold Gloves at third base, and he’s a superior shortstop. Harper is disinterested in right field, ordinary in center. That’s a huge difference, at least from this seat.
Nothing disqualifies either as a centerpiece addition. It’s just that Machado recalls Alex Rodriguez going to the Yankees — a thunderous right-handed bat and a two-time Gold Glove infielder, with a monstrous contract, traded at 28 from the Texas Rangers to New York, where he won his second and third MVP trophies as baseball’s best player for the next seven seasons.
Machado’s 26. He has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times. He’s got MVP written all over him, especially if he played at Citizens Bank Park.
“We were willing to get aggressive on this, and if the reports are true, this contract will exceed our valuation," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "Sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.”
If that’s the case, then their valuation was lacking.
Harper, also 26, was the National League MVP at 22 but hasn’t been quite the same in the past three seasons. Then again, he’s been the opposition’s target. That’s why players don’t win the award five years in a row.
Harper has hit .267 with 87 home runs and an .897 OPS and has scored 282 runs in the past three seasons. Machado has hit 283 with 107 home runs and an .855 OPS and has scored 270 runs.
Harper’s lethal lefty bat in the middle of the Phillies’ predominantly right-handed lineup would cause matchup problems for opposing pitching staffs. But the Phillies’ lineup inevitably will change over the next decade, so perhaps that consideration should be mitigated a bit.
Again, either slugger would be fine. Machado would just be better, baggage and all.
And neither, frankly, is Chase “Bleeping” Utley.
Machado, like Jimmy Rollins, acknowledges it, says he’s no “Johnny Hustle.” There’s some honor in honesty, I suppose.
However, in its lust for an identifiable hero, Philadelphia, as it is wont to do, has constructed a myth concerning Harper.
Suddenly, after seven years of indifferent base-running and imprecise defensive play, Harper has been cast as a old-timey “Johnny Hustle” — a pure rendering of baseball’s essence.
To use an old-timey descriptor, that just balderdash.
Do you not recall why Jonathan Papelbon dogged Harper in the dugout? It was because Harper dogged it on a fly ball.
Papelbon apologized for instigating the skirmish, but teammates afterward told me they were delighted that someone had the courage to do what manager Matt Williams wouldn’t: scold the kid.
The Washington Post discussed Harper’s shortcomings Friday: “When the most famous player on the team can’t go 10 days without failing to run out a groundball,” wrote columnist Tom Boswell.
Befuddled fans who understand the demanding nature of Philly sports fans query on Twitter why the city would welcome a player with an attitude like Harper has had.
Honestly, the attitude stuff is barely relevant. Harper wouldn’t be asked to be a sort of hold-'em-accountable leader that Utley was reputed to be.
Besides, the Phillies already have a sheriff: Rhys Hoskins. He and Harper are buddies. They share agent Scott Boras. Probably hair products, too.
Philly does this all the time. The town heralded the arrivals of petulant 49ers receiver Terrell Owens and unprofessional Lakers center Andrew Bynum. The town then reviled them for acting in Philadelphia as they had acted in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
This occasional lapse of maximum effort doesn’t disqualify Harper from becoming a Phillies great, any more than it disqualified Rollins from being a Phillies great. Exuberant bat flips and groundball slow-jogs are part of the fabric of today’s game.
Whatever Harper’s shortcomings, he hasn’t kicked an opposing player or made obscene gestures at the crowd. He hasn’t excused his lack of effort. Machado has done all those things.
Maybe Philly’s love affair with the idea of Bryce Harper will create a change in the actual Bryce Harper, if he decides to make the city his new home. Maybe $300 million will act as an agent of maturation.
But if Harper is hitting .249 in September, and the Phillies are five games out of the playoffs, and he doesn’t run out a fly ball ...