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Padres may prefer Bryce Harper to Manny Machado

Bryce Harper

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals bats against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at Nationals Park on September 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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The Padres are relative newcomers to the ongoing Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free agent saga, but they’ve already started to make things interesting. On Saturday, two days after their reported meeting with Harper in Las Vegas, they let slip to Fancred’s Jon Heyman that they might be leaning toward offering the 26-year-old outfielder a contract rather than continuing their pursuit of shortstop/third baseman Machado.

On one hand, Heyman revealed, the Padres’ ownership recognizes that they have a clear “business/marketing opportunity” with Harper, something that may prove even more valuable than the .249/.393/.496 batting line and 3.5 fWAR he already brings to the table. That’s certainly the kind of attitude that’s expected from any team weighing the pros and cons of a long-term, $400+ million contract offer, even if, as Craig noted on Thursday, it would take some roster reshuffling to fit Harper into San Diego’s current outfield configuration. For what it’s worth, the Padres’ brass was said to be “extremely prepared” and “seemed sincere about wooing [Harper]” during their meeting on Thursday, though it doesn’t appear that any kind of deal is imminent.

As for Machado, Heyman suggests that the All-Star infielder may not be receptive to playing for a West Coast team at all. If that’s the case, it makes sense for the Padres to start amping up their interest in Harper, regardless of which player they actually have a preference for. According to a recent report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the club also might find it difficult to entice Machado to play in San Diego as they intend to move him back to the hot corner in 2019, should the two sides strike a deal in the weeks to come. While Machado is reportedly open to playing third base again, his preferred position is shortstop -- which may or may not factor into any career-based decisions he makes this winter.

All that said, the Padres still look like a long shot to land either free agent, especially taking some of their more spendthrift competitors into account. It’s of some consolation that Opening Day is just seven weeks out. We should have some answers soon.