CARLSBAD, Calif. — It isn't by chance that the Phillies are flush with cash at a time when their readiness to contend coincides with the free agencies of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
"One of the things about going through the rebuild is that we were very careful with our out-year commitments," general manager Matt Klentak said Tuesday from the annual GM meetings. "When we were going through lean years, we didn't sign any players to multiyear contracts. I think that's always going to be something that's on our mind, maintaining payroll flexibility."
Klentak isn't averse to making a lengthy commitment to a star player. He noted that he was working for the Los Angeles Angels when they signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract. Harper and Machado will be looking for deals of at least that length, which is why it's doubtful the Phillies would sign both players, even though they may have the financial wherewithal.
Signing Harper and Machado would limit the Phillies' flexibility in future years. If, for instance, the Los Angeles Angels are unable to sign Mike Trout to an extension and ultimately decide to trade him, the Phillies would be hard-pressed to be in the mix.
"It's a pretty bad feeling to go into an offseason knowing that you have things you need to address and not having the financial resources to do it because your money is tied up in players," Klentak said. "I don't think we ever want to put ourselves in that position. But some players are going to demand more than three-year contracts, and we have to be open to that. If it makes sense, we can do it. This is a franchise that carried big payrolls for a long, long time. We will likely get back to that again."
Amid a report in the Washington Post that the Nationals made a significant long-term proposal to Harper late in the season, general manager Mike Rizzo said the team remains hopeful of retaining its franchise player but won't be held hostage by him either.
The Nats have other needs to fill and an outfield that includes Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, Michael Taylor and top prospect Victor Robles. If agent Scott Boras waits until later in the offseason for a market to form for Harper, as he does with many of his clients, the Nationals could move on.
"I'm comfortable with the alternatives," Rizzo said. "I'm uncomfortable with the statement that without [Harper] we could be a better team. We certainly have made attempts to sign him."