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The baseball world already made its trip to Las Vegas. The Philadelphia Phillies are going back.

The White Sox are competing with the Phillies in not only the derby for Manny Machado but for the other 26-year-old superstar on this winter's free-agent market, Bryce Harper. And while the White Sox have reportedly twice met with Harper in Sin City — once early in the offseason, with Hall of Famer Jim Thome supposedly present, and again during the Winter Meetings, when the baseball world descended on Harper's hometown — the Phillies are just now sitting down for a face-to-face meeting with one of the best players in the game.

While it's been reported that the Machado saga could soon be reaching its end, there's seemingly no end in sight for the Harper sweepstakes, which more than one report has suggested could last into February.

And because there's no apparent rush for Harper to ink what's expected to be one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, perhaps there's time for a little chess.

Not long ago, it seemed the Harper derby was down to three teams: the White Sox, the Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well, the Dodgers haven't been making any noise on the Harper front, even if they did clear outfielders from their roster and salary from their books in that blockbuster deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Then the Washington Nationals re-entered the picture, despite Harper having reportedly rejected their initial offer of 10 years and $300 million. Harper, agent Scott Boras and Nationals owner Ted Lerner reportedly sat down for five hours just before Christmas, and now the possibility that Harper will return to the team with which he spent the first seven seasons of his big league career is looking like a mighty strong one.


So where does that leave the Phillies? You'll remember their owner saying they might "be a little stupid" with their spending this winter, and it wouldn't come as any surprise if they end up bringing a big bag with a dollar sign on it to their Saturday meeting in Vegas.

But remember, too, that the Phillies and Nationals are division rivals. And so whichever team doesn't get Harper is going to have to face him 19 times a season for the next decade. So what will the Phillies do if they're on the short end of that stick?

Enter The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, who has a suggestion that ties all of this together. He wrote Thursday that the Phillies still prefer Machado to Harper. And with the New York Yankees continuing to add infielders to their already crowded infield, the Machado derby appears to be down to the White Sox and Phillies. If the Phillies want to spend that "stupid" money on Machado, why are they meeting with Harper? Rosenthal has a guess:

"A contingent from the Phillies’ front office is scheduled to meet with Harper in his native Las Vegas on Saturday. If the Phillies’ preference is Machado, as some in the industry believe, then the meeting from their perspective might simply be a ploy to drive up the price for the Nationals, a division rival. Harper and Boras, in fact, might be proceeding with the same motivation."

Oh really?

The White Sox have recently been considered "long shots" on Harper and have, like the Phillies, been reported to be more "in" on Machado, who by everyone's guess is expected to sign before Harper, with Boras likely waiting to ensure his client gets the biggest payday of the offseason. But if the Phillies throw their "stupid" money at Machado and reel him away from the rest of the "Miami Baseball Brotherhood" on the South Side, then does the Harper derby get whittled down to two teams, with the White Sox as one of them?

It's all a bunch of "what ifs" as this whole thing continues to be a head-spinning mess, with the rest of baseball along for the ride as much as fans of the involved teams.

Machado's decision could reportedly be made by next week, and perhaps the goings-on in Vegas will have something to do with that. In other words, stay tuned.

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