Bryce Harper hysteria mounts for Phillies as Manny Machado mania ends

Bryce Harper hysteria mounts for Phillies as Manny Machado mania ends

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies officials started daydreaming about the possibility of putting Manny Machado in red pinstripes a couple of years ago. They tried to trade for him in July. They hosted him as a free agent at Citizens Bank Park in December, wined and dined him in Center City and subsequently made him multiple contract offers.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Phils' long pursuit of the Gold Glove infielder ended.

General manager Matt Klentak got a phone call from Machado's agent, Dan Lozano. Machado was ready to move on a contract offer from the San Diego Padres, later reported to be worth $300 million over 10 years.

Did the Phillies want to stay in the game?

"There's a certain value that we believe a player brings and we were willing to be aggressive," Klentak said in a meeting with reporters later in the day. "If the reports are true, then this contract will exceed our valuation and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.

"We've made no secret. We're really happy for Manny. We like the player. I think San Diego will be a very good fit for him. We made our bid, put our best foot forward and he ended up signing with the Padres.

"Over the course of four months, we had ongoing dialogue. We were certainly engaged with Danny throughout and Manny would have been a good fit, but again, you have to draw the line somewhere. The Padres are getting a great player."

Klentak would not say what the Phillies' best offer was. He shook his head "no" when asked if he would have done anything differently during the negotiations.

According to sources, Machado had been coveted by the Phillies' baseball operations and analytics staffs. Both believed that in this free-agent market, he offered the best possible roster upgrade because he is an elite defender at third base in addition to being a top offensive talent.

But news of Machado's decision was not met with disappointment in all circles of the Phillies organization and it certainly was not met with disappointment by the fans.

The folks in the box office have favored this winter's other big free agent, Bryce Harper, over Machado, whose controversial comments in October about not hustling created concerns about how he'd be received by hard-nosed Philadelphia sports fans.

Harper remains the overwhelming free-agent choice of the fans, and Machado's decision to play in San Diego, coupled with the Phillies' desire to make a big free-agent score in this winter of stupid money, puts enormous public pressure on the club to land the 26-year-old outfielder.

Klentak was asked if he'd spoken with Harper's agent, Scott Boras, in the wake of the Machado news.

"I'm not going to answer that," he said.

It is difficult to imagine the opportunistic Boras not having reached out to the Phillies after Machado's signing. Phillies officials met with Boras and Harper in Las Vegas in January and the two sides remain in contact. In fact, there has been an uptick in conversation between the two sides recently.

All along, observers of this free-agent drama have believed that Machado would sign before Harper. Now that Machado has set the bar, Harper will try to jump over it. There is some industry thought that he is seeking $326 million, which would put him above the $325 million that Giancarlo Stanton got in a contract extension with the Miami Marlins.

The White Sox, Giants and Nationals, along with the Phillies, have had interest in Harper. But can any other team play in the neighborhood of $300 million? The White Sox said they weren't willing to go that high for Machado. The Giants' interest seems tied to a short-term deal. The Nats reportedly offered $300 million to retain Harper in October, but there are questions about whether the offer still exists after a busy winter of transactions in Washington.

The Phillies are very leery about bidding against themselves. That caution might have hurt them in their bid to sign Machado. It could hurt them in their quest to land Harper. By the same token, they could be rewarded if they remain patient on Harper because it is very difficult to identify which teams are really in on him. This might be a field of just one.

Klentak would not say what the Phillies' valuation of Harper is. He would not discuss what the "walk-away" point would be on Harper, though there clearly would be one.

The Phillies have largely had a productive offseason. They got better with Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto. But from Day 1, this offseason was about landing one of the big ones and there's only one of them left. Gulp.

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Phillies get mugged in Miami — their inability to beat bad teams could prove fatal to playoff hopes

Phillies get mugged in Miami — their inability to beat bad teams could prove fatal to playoff hopes

MIAMI — How does this happen? How do the Phillies manage to sweep formidable clubs like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox (in Fenway Park, no less) and stumble against teams like the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins in recent weeks?

Obviously, it’s lack of performance, lack of execution, but are there other factors, like, possibly, a lack of concentration that has led the Phillies to play down to the competition so often?

While you ponder this rhetorical question, keep this in mind: The Phillies open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at home on Monday night.

The Pirates are another bad team.

That’s good for the Phillies, who desperately need wins over the final 33 games.

It’s also bad for the Phillies, who in recent weeks have lost series to the White Sox, Padres and Marlins.

The latest fall-on-your face performance was capped Sunday in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins, who are 47-82, last in the NL East.

The Marlins mugged Aaron Nola for three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take the lead moments after Rhys Hoskins had belted a two-run homer to put the Phillies on top. Nola had retired 11 straight batters before giving up a one-out double, a walk, an RBI single and a two-run double in the sixth. It was a shocking implosion by the Phillies’ ace and his mates, playing without Bryce Harper (paternity leave) for a third straight day, produced just four hits on the day so there was no bailing him out.

“He was cruising,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He lost a little command in the sixth. Sometimes even the best pitchers lose command and that's enough.”

Nola, who had held Boston’s thundering offense to two runs in seven innings in his previous start, did not have his best fastball.

“I didn’t really feel like I had my fastball early in the game,” he said. “I was pulling it a lot. My changeup was working today. It was the only thing really working today.”

The Phillies won two in Boston on this trip then lost two of three in Miami. They scored 11 runs on Friday night and still lost. That’s because they blew a 7-0 lead.

If the Phils fail to make the playoffs, they will look back to their performance against the Marlins as the reason why. The Phils are 7-9 against Miami. Atlanta is 15-4 against the Marlins. The Mets are 11-4. Washington is 10-3.

Sunday's loss left the Phils 1½ games back in the wild-card race.

“It’s very frustrating,” Hoskins said. “You often hear you’re playing against yourself, right? If we play our game, we obviously can beat any team. We swept the Cubs, we swept the Red Sox on the road. Yeah, it’s tough. This is just a different place to play here. Credit to those guys. They came up with some big hits in some big situations off Noles and they … I don’t really have much more to say.”

Kapler, already agitated by Cesar Hernandez' lack of hustle in the game, was also at a loss for words when asked about his team’s struggles against the Marlins.

“Whatever the reason, we have to find a way to win these baseball games,” he said.

So, how do the Phillies avoid a similar letdown against the Pirates, who are 11-30 since the All-Star break? How do they do it without having Nola go to the mound in the series? Surely, Harper's return should help.

“We remind them how good they are, how much they're capable of, how much confidence we have in them,” Kapler said. “Everybody in the clubhouse knows that it's all of our responsibilities to step up to the plate and be stronger and be better.”

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Will Cesar Hernandez hear it from Philly fans after 'totally unacceptable' lack of hustle?

Will Cesar Hernandez hear it from Philly fans after 'totally unacceptable' lack of hustle?

MIAMI — The Phillies return home to Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

Cesar Hernandez will probably get a painfully warm Philadelphia greeting from the fans.

“Yeah, I expect,” he said.

Hernandez was not the reason that the Phillies lost two of three over the weekend in Miami. He was not the reason they lost the series finale, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon. In fact, he scored one of the team’s runs after a two-out single in the sixth inning.

But Hernandez was still a major subplot in the loss as what has been a season-long issue for this team reared its head again.

That base hit that Hernandez had in the sixth inning? It should have been a double. He thought the ball was going to be a homer so he did not run hard out of the box. By the time he realized it was going to stay in the park, it was too late to make it to second. It was an egregious mistake in a scoreless game when a base hit could have put a run on the board.

As it turned out, Rhys Hoskins got Hernandez off the hook with a two-run homer. Hernandez thanked Hoskins for that — twice — once at home plate and once while running out to the field in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Hernandez’ lack of hustle did not sit well with manager Gabe Kapler.

“Totally unacceptable baserunning play,” Kapler said through clenched jaw. “It was addressed on the bench. I had a conversation with Cesar after the game. He understands it's unacceptable. There's no excuse for it. We have some strong veteran leaders in the clubhouse who will address it, as well.”

One day earlier, Kapler had talked about accountability after sending Nick Pivetta to the minors. Kapler said he thought Pivetta needed to be more accountable, to “look in the mirror.”

Hernandez is not the first Phillie to come up short in the hustle department this season. Jean Segura and Maikel Franco were violators. Franco was held accountable with a benching.

Did Kapler consider removing Hernandez from the game?

“It's just an unacceptable base running play,” was Kapler’s answer to that question.

Deciding whether or not to pull Hernandez is a question complicated by the Phils’ place in the standings — they are in a playoff race and need wins — and the fact that they have a weak bench. Would it have been fair to the rest of the team to subtract the starting second baseman (and endure the dropoff in talent) from a game the team needed to win?

“I think it's really important that we bust our asses out of the batter's box,” Kapler said. “We're not sure if the ball is going to go out of the ballpark. It's really important that we give every ounce of energy on that play. Even at the expense of making a bang-bang play at second base. We need a single to score that run. Obviously, Rhys was able to bail us all out. He hit a big home run for us. But we have to find a way to get to second base on that play.”

Hernandez was contrite after the game.

“It was obviously a mistake," he said, "but the thing about this team is that we try to pick each other up. You watched the game and you saw what happened. I was obviously thankful to Rhys that he was able to pick me up there.”

Hoskins said players in the clubhouse hold each other accountable.

He added that Hernandez did not need a strong reprimand.

“Cesar doesn’t need to be talked to,” Hoskins said. “I don’t think he’s someone that doesn’t play the game the right way. He just had a little brain fart. Had a little lapse in judgment. Thank goodness it didn’t hurt us.

“I didn’t say anything to him on the field. He came up to me. That showed everybody he’s accountable. That type of player knows (he made a mistake). My bet is it doesn’t happen again.”

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