Manny Machado

Manny Machado? Bryce Harper? Who gets the next ride on Air Middleton?

Manny Machado? Bryce Harper? Who gets the next ride on Air Middleton?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — By now, you’ve seen the video.

And if Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and others have seen it, too … well, the Phillies are happy for the little bit of attention.

The Phils are back in the free-agent game. They announced their presence not only by signing Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract on Monday, but also with how they transported and welcomed the pitcher to spring training.

Arrieta had a physical in Philadelphia on Monday. Upon completion, he was driven to Philadelphia International Airport, where owner John Middleton’s private jet — adorned with the Phillies’ red P on the tail — awaited. Arrieta and one of his representatives then flew to Florida's East Coast, picked up Middleton and his wife, Leigh, and jetted across the state to St. Petersburg, where four Phillies executives, including club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak, waited on the tarmac to greet the pitcher. The entire event was captured Hollywood-style by two team videographers and posted on social media. It was an idea that Middleton and Phillies vice president of communications Bonnie Clark came up with. And if it all sent a message, then fine.

“I want people to understand that we’re going to do things in the best way we can possibly do it — first class,” Middleton said after Arrieta’s introductory news conference Tuesday (more from that here).

“It’s a message to everybody, not just free agents. I want everybody in our organization to understand what our mission is and how we're supposed to go about it. I want the players on our roster not named Jake Arrieta to understand what our mission is, our coaches, front office, our fans, other organizations. We’re serious about winning and we’re going to do what it takes to win.”

Rides on fancy private jets don’t win games. But the guys who win games for teams do like that stuff. Just ask Arrieta's agent, Scott Boras.

“Sometimes organizations want to portray to the player community things that are important to players,” said Boras, who spent time schmoozing with Middleton after the news conference. “Jake goes to Philadelphia for a physical and the Middleton family has its plane waiting to take him down here. A lot of organizations don’t do that. He arrives down here and everyone from the staff is there late at night to meet him. That says a lot about how sensitive they are to player needs and what’s important to players. When you respect players like that — those are things that will ring true to players about how they want to be treated and how they are respected in addition to the competitive nature of the team.”

From upgrades to player facilities at Citizens Bank Park and in Clearwater to technology and other player-improvement equipment, “We’re going to give you all the tools you need to win,” Middleton said. “You’re going to have to take advantage of them because we’re going to have high expectations.”

Arrieta will make $30 million this season, $25 million in 2019 and $20 million in 2020. Middleton encouraged Klentak to go to $30 million this season to recognize Arrieta’s elite status. That’s part of the free-agent game — respect and messages of respect that resonate all around the game.

Middleton said he had circled Arrieta’s name as a potential free-agent target years ago.

Who gets the next ride on Air Middleton?

“That’s a conversation for another day,” the Phillies owner said. “But, trust me, they are circled.”

Even with Jake Arrieta, Phillies still have enormous flexibility

Even with Jake Arrieta, Phillies still have enormous flexibility

Here's the thing about that vaunted 2018-19 MLB free-agent class you've been hearing about for years: There's no elite pitcher who would have been realistically available for the Phillies to sign.

Clayton Kershaw is a safe bet to opt out of the final two years of his deal, but given the Phillies' disinterest in signing a pitcher to a long-, long-term deal — along with their interest in Manny Machado — Kershaw was never realistic here.

Which is why the Phillies had to add starting pitching help this offseason when seemingly everything played to their favor. It was why, when Jake Arrieta continued to linger in free agency in early March, the Phillies had to step up and get the deal done.

Next year's payroll
Arrieta's contract, according to Jon Heyman, pays $30 million in Year 1, $25 million in Year 2, $20 million in Year 3. It makes sense to frontload the contract because the Phillies have so few dollars committed in 2019.

Even after signing Arrieta for $25 million per year, Carlos Santana for $20 million per year and throwing a combined $35 million to Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter over the next two seasons, the Phillies still have less than $70 million in guaranteed commitments for next year's team.

Now, that doesn't include the raises for keepers like Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Hector Neris, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Luis Garcia, etc. 

Perhaps not every player from that group is still a Phillie 12 months now, but their relative cheapness is what prompted a team that wasn't totally sure what it was going to do this offseason to sign one of the two best starting pitchers on the market. 

Aside from that veteran free-agent quartet, pretty much every Phillies player who matters is making less than $7 million per season. And then you have the super-cheap guys like Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford and Williams, who all have under a year of service time.

It's kind of similar to what the Eagles are doing with Carson Wentz: Filling out the team around him while Wentz is still on his inexpensive rookie deal.

What Arrieta accomplishes
Aside from what Arrieta is able to contribute on the field this season, his presence on the Phillies will make someone like Machado take the Phils more seriously next winter. If nothing goes catastrophically wrong injury-wise this season, free agents will look at the Phils as a young team with some key vets that could be on the brink of taking the next step toward 90 or so wins.

And the beauty of the ways the Phillies have methodically rebuilt to this point is that even after making two free-agent splashes, they could still sign someone like Machado next offseason, and perhaps even sign another high-priced free agent, and they'd still be about $30 million under their 2014 payroll. (That was their last-gasp, A.J. Burnett-Marlon Byrd offseason.)

As Arrieta stayed unsigned, this move just made more and more sense for the Phillies every day. Had Arrieta, at the same age, been a free agent last year or the year before, he'd have gotten that five-year-plus deal. It was only two offseasons ago that Jordan Zimmermann, for example, got $110 million.

The Phils waited, waited, waited, and got a more team-friendly deal than the one Arrieta's old team, the Cubs, signed Yu Darvish to. They may have gotten the better pitcher as well.

Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

Updated: 9:50 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles are shopping Manny Machado for a trade.

The Phillies love Machado.

So the Phils will do the deal, right?

It's not that simple.

Machado remained a hot topic on Day 2 of the winter meetings Tuesday and the lobby buzz made it all the way to the Phillies' war room. General manager Matt Klentak would not take questions about any specific players — that would be a tampering violation — but he was posed with a scenario that would reflect Machado's situation.

Machado, 25, will be a free agent after the 2018 season. Therefore, he is under contractual control for just one more season.

So, Klentak was asked whether he would be willing to give up a slew of young talent — that's what it would take to get Machado — for a player under control only for a short period of time.

Klentak mulled the question. He covered all sides in his answer. But in the end, it sure sounded as if he would not be willing to pay the price to trade for a player like Machado. It sounded as if he'd rather roll the dice that Machado became a free agent in a year then try to get him for just money and not prospects.

"It obviously becomes more attractive to us if a player is under control for future years, plural," Klentak said. "If it’s a one-year contract before free agency, it’s less attractive. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t do it. I realize these are less notable players than what you’re suggesting, but we’ve done that with some bullpen and starting pitcher additions the past couple years to acquire a player on a one-year deal. It really depends on what the return is, what would we have to give up in exchange for that player, whether that makes sense to acquire a player on a short-term contract. The years of control matter.

"I think we have to be open-minded to those scenarios, but the scenario you outlined presents some challenges that make it less likely. But we’re open-minded to just about everything."

Any team that acquires Machado, a slugging left-side infielder, this winter would have to be granted a 72-hour window from the Commissioner's Office to hammer out a contract extension before the deal is consummated. Even then, the deal would cost a team prospects and money. Look for the Phillies to stay in touch with the Orioles and monitor their asking price throughout the winter. But clearly, the Phillies prefer to hold on to as many of their young core players and prospects as they can as they seek to acquire players who would propel them closer to the top of the National League East.

This doesn't mean the Phillies would not be willing to subtract a young player or two for the right talent. The Phillies are looking for starting pitching and sources say they've investigated the possibility of acquiring young, under-control pitchers such as Chris Archer of the Rays and Michael Fulmer of the Tigers.

The Phillies are likely to add starting pitching through a trade, possibly one that involves shortstop Freddy Galvis or second baseman Cesar Hernandez. A person with a club from a team seeking a second baseman was asked about Hernandez on Tuesday. The person said the Phillies were being more aggressive in their efforts to move Galvis than they were Hernandez. That does not mean Hernandez will not be traded. The Phillies have set an extremely high price on him because he has three more years of contractual control and that is very valuable.

The Phillies' need for starting pitching and their deep pockets have led to a connection to free-agent Jake Arrieta. The Phillies, as is winter meetings custom, met with Arrieta's agent, Scott Boras, but it's highly unlikely they would sign the pitcher because he will be 32 next season and word is he is seeking a deal that could approach $200 million. The Phillies don't believe they are far enough along in their rebuild to commit those dollars and the years it would take to get Arrieta. So don't hold your breath on that one (see story). If Arrieta is still out there in February and his price tag came way down, well, check back then.

"We've spent the last day and a half meeting with most of the prominent agents in the industry — a lot of agents represent players we're targeting and players we're not targeting — and I can understand why sometimes the connection will get made that may not be perfectly accurate," Klentak said. 

"We're very cognizant of the fact that we're a large-market team that has carried large payrolls in the past and does not have a lot of future commitments. We know this about ourselves, the agents know this about us, the fans know this about us. I think it's natural to connect the Phillies to players who are going to command a lot of money. 

"I've said this before: There will come a time where those connections will be accurate and we will spend again. For where we are right now, we are very committed to giving the reps to our young players and it would take a pretty special set of circumstances for us to deviate from that."

Klentak wants to improve the Phillies' "run prevention." It would be nice to add a starting pitcher — you can pretty much bet the Phillies will — but run prevention can also be addressed in the bullpen. Klentak suggested it was likely that the team would add another veteran reliever beyond Pat Neshek in the coming days (see story), and it is as the Phillies are finalizing a two-year deal with right-hander Tommy Hunter, according to a source Tuesday (see story).